This Week in D-I Women’s Hockey: Nov. 21, 2008

The overnight temperature in Madison, Wisc. on Thursday was 16 degrees with a wind chill of 5.

The outlook for Ft. Myers, Fla., on Friday called for 77 degree temps and breezes.

It would seem like a good time for a hockey team, say No. 1 ranked Wisconsin, to take a pre-holiday tournament southward, which in fact they are doing this weekend.

The Badgers will face No 3. New Hampshire in a two-game set to be staged at The Skatium in Ft. Myers. It’s believed to the first time that Womens’ D-I hockey regular season games have been played in the Sunshine State.

“It should be really good for the sport of hockey in Florida,” said Wisconsin junior right wing Kyla Sanders.

Sanders would have a little insight into that matter.

She is, after all, from Cape Coral, which is a whistling slapshot away from The Skatium boards. Sanders, who has helped keep the high-octane Badger attack humming, is braced for the extra duties that come with being the “hometown gal” made good.

Who better to play the role of tour guide? And who better to provide the Badgers with a home ice advantage by packing in a rooting section of her own?

“I’m really excited,” she said. “There will be a lot of people there.”

Those who come will likely be treated to a pair of memorable contests.
Both teams are at their best right now, and Wisconsin — at 12-0-2 — has yet to suffer a loss.

Sanders said that the Badgers are simply being rewarded for all the hard work they’re putting into each shift, even each practice.

“We’ve actually been doing really well,” she said. “We’ve been taking one game at a time. And it’s been working out really well for us. Mainly, it’s just been (us) competing. That’s one of our main goals. To compete. Every shift that you’re out there. Playing a whole game.”

The Badgers, of course are just one year removed from the second of their two NCAA championships, and are one third of the WCHA troika — which includes both Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth — which have had a stranglehold on the national title.

Yet Wisconsin has never beaten UNH, having lost six times with one tie in their seven meetings. That includes two narrow defeats last year at New Hampshire. Sanders said that to fare any better against the Wildcats, the Badgers will have to set the tempo from the opening faceoff.

“They are a really good team,” she said. “We just need to come out ready and strong. Come out in the first 20 minutes competing and battling.”

Sanders said that the Badgers can be as aggressive as they want to be, knowing that they have perhaps the best goalie in the country — senior Jessie Vetter — in net, ready to erase any mistakes they might make.

Vetter, who many think will be Team USA’s net minder when the 2010 Olympics get underway in Vancouver, is leading the nation with a microscopic 0.80 GAA.

“She’s so good because she’s so calm,” said Sanders. “She’ll have a breakaway, they’ll come down (on) her and she isn’t fazed at all. I think she scares players more than she gets scared. She can be very intimidating.”

Meanwhile, Sanders (four goals, eight assists) is skating with freshman Brooke Ammerman (with a nation-leading four game-winners among her 14 goals) and junior Jasmine Giles (second on the Badgers with 12 assists). Sanders said she can see plenty of improvement in her game.

“(I’m) probably being more comfortable with carrying the puck,” she said. “Being more patient. Working on the mental aspects of the game. There are obviously things I need to work on. But I feel I’ve improved a lot. I just need to keep improving.”

Sanders, who was a freshman on the last Wisconsin championship team, said this year’s edition is playing as well at this stage of the season as the title winners did.

“I think everything is going really well,” she said. “The lines are flowing and we’re producing. I just hope that it keeps going.”