The Badger Sparkplug

Erika Lawler has experienced a lot of things in NCAA play in her three seasons at Wisconsin. Until this season, heading to the locker room with her team behind on the scoreboard in the national tourney wasn’t one of them.

Now she has found herself in that situation in consecutive games in this season’s tournament, down a goal in the second intermission to Minnesota in the quarterfinal, and trailing 1-0 after one in Thursday’s semifinal with Harvard.

Apparently, neither she nor her teammates particularly like the feeling. The Badgers erased the Minnesota deficit 14 seconds into the third period.

Against the Crimson, Lawler scored an unassisted goal just 18 seconds into the second period to tie the game at one. The junior center picked up the puck behind the Harvard net, skated in front, and backhanded a shot past Christina Kessler. The groundwork for the play was laid when she had a similar opportunity in the first period.

“I noticed when Jasmine Giles did it a couple of shifts before me,” Lawler said. “If you stop hard and just go to the net, because everyone is covering everyone in front of the net. They’re not coming towards you, so you can just walk it out.”

“I had all the time in the world in front of the net. Unfortunately, I couldn’t put it in the first period.”

It worked out better for Lawler and the Badgers the second time.

“We talked about that between periods — they were letting us go to the net. I was able to come out and luckily just sneak it past her five-hole.”

Her teammates responded to her effort.

“I thought Erika’s goal to start the second period really changed our bench,” coach Mark Johnson said.

“You want to get everyone going, everyone fired up,” Lawler said.

Six and a half minutes later, she set up Jinelle Zaugg for a one-timer to make it 3-1. Her hustle along the boards drew a penalty, and then she earned the assist before the delayed penalty was whistled.

Zaugg was not surprised by the havoc her diminutive teammate caused.

“I have a hard time containing her in practice,” she said.

But Lawler’s true value to her team doesn’t always show up in the boxscore. To fully appreciate no. 13, you have to see her in action.

She is all frenetic action, darting into the corner to gather a loose puck, starting out one way, pivoting quickly and escaping out of the zone in the other direction. All the while, her head is up processing everything taking place around her on the ice.

“It’s not always about points; it really isn’t,” Lawler said. “I think a lot of hockey these days is boxscores, and how you look on paper. Little things like that get people going. Skating hard, winning your battles, winning face offs — anything you can do to get the team going.”

For a young Badger team, the spark that Lawler provides is essential.

“There’s no Sarah Bauer, no Bobbi-Jo Slusar, no Meaghan Mikkelson. We lost huge, huge seniors. Not only did we miss big players, but also we miss a lot of personality. Everyone stepped up to bigger roles.”

Nobody steps up higher than the shortest Badger.

“I couldn’t have gone out there without my linemates,” Lawler said. “I couldn’t have done anything without the support that I have.”

“We’re absolutely one hundred percent a team.”