Nothing like a big party, complete with presents, family and old friends, to tamp out the ache of disappointment.
The University of Wisconsin women's hockey team will christen its beautiful new home, LaBahn Arena, before a sellout crowd Friday night when it opens a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series with Bemidji State.
UW players, coaches and support staffers moved into the $34 million facility Oct. 1 and have been embracing its many amenities since then, from an immense dressing room and modern sports medicine area to a players' lounge and an office that overlooks the 2,273-seat bowl.
"Everything's been awesome," said Brianna Decker, the senior center and reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner as the national player of the year.
"It's got a lot of wonderful things," UW coach Mark Johnson said during a news conference Monday. "We're just getting used to it."
Moving into LaBahn is not the only dramatic adjustment the Badgers are making these days. They are young, especially at forward where five freshmen have seen extensive playing time, and that has translated to some early growing pains.
The most acute came to life last week when UW lost 2-0 and 1-0 decisions at Minnesota-Duluth. It was the first time in the 14-year history of the powerhouse program — which has won four NCAA titles and been the runner-up twice — the Badgers were shut out in consecutive WCHA games.
The series against the Bulldogs — winners of five national titles — completed a six-game season-opening stretch on the road.
"With young players, it's a learning opportunity," Johnson said. "We've been on the bus quite a bit. Now we get to come back and create this atmosphere within the new building.
"Everything's pretty positive. The team's played pretty well. Unfortunately, we came this past weekend with not scoring the goals we needed to win hockey games."
Speaking of enlightenment, even Decker has learned a few things during series at Minnesota State-Mankato, Lindenwood and Duluth. Coming into the season, the Dousman product had a sense that opponents would have her in their defensive crosshairs, but Johnson suggested that she wasn't fully prepared for the intensity level, especially last week when Decker managed 10 fruitless shots against the Bulldogs.
"You might have saw a little bit of frustration on her in regards to they were playing her pretty tight," Johnson said. "They weren't going to give her a lot of space. There wasn't a lot of room for her to create things."
Decker is averaging a goal a game, leads the Badgers in scoring with 11 points and two weeks ago became the fifth player in program history to reach 200 career points (92 goals, 108 assists). As such, opponents are going to zero in on her and try to and make someone else in the UW lineup step up.
"I learned my lesson last week," Decker said, acknowledging that she let her frustrations get the best of her.
"If we're not scoring, I grip my stick a little tight sometimes. I've just got to keep in the back of my mind that when we're not scoring, that's got to be motivation more so than frustration."
That's an important image to present as the captain of a club that starts more freshmen (six) than seniors (five).
"Being swept last week was a wake-up call for us," Decker said.
Getting refocused should be easy given the energy that should be in LaBahn this weekend. In addition to a sellout crowd, 30 former UW players are expected, including Patty Kazmaier winners Sara Bauer (2006) and Jessie Vetter (2009).
"We're going to feed off that," Decker said. "Hopefully we'll give them a little show."