Sophia Shaver photo

Badgers junior Sophia Shaver has seven points in her last five games.

UW ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

Sophia Shaver’s winter break wasn’t much different from that of her University of Wisconsin women’s hockey teammates.

She went back home to Minnesota for the holidays, got some rest, did some lifting and cardio work.

Now, the junior forward and the top-ranked Badgers are trying to not let the long pause in the season derail what they had going when they left off in 2017.

Shaver had the best five-game scoring stretch of her 100-game collegiate career prior to UW’s four-week break. The team had a 21-1 overall record and was 12-0 halfway through the Western Collegiate Hockey Association schedule.

They’ll try to make it look like they weren’t away at all when they host Minnesota State at LaBahn Arena on Saturday and Sunday.

An intrasquad scrimmage last weekend where they simulated a true game day was one of the ways the Badgers tried to negate the effects of going 34 days between games.

“It seemed like we didn’t even have a week off, but we had the rest there,” Shaver said. “So it’s important for us to keep getting into that game mode, and I think that’ll help us this weekend.”

Coach Mark Johnson said he and his staff considered that it was almost two weeks into the new year before the Badgers got a chance to play when they set up the schedule for break.

Practice resumed on Dec. 30, giving UW a healthy lead-up to the return to competition.

“The key is to try to bring them back at a time where they’re not here too long without the school portion, without the games,” Johnson said. “The nice part is it gave us last week to get them back into game condition. Now the next step is to play some games.”

They’ll be trying to have a better return from a bye weekend than they did earlier this season.

They played on 11 of 12 weekends between Sept. 22 and Dec. 9. They suffered their only loss of the opening three months, a 3-2 decision to Northeastern on Nov. 24, after having the previous weekend off.

There were takeaways from that game for the Badgers that they can apply this weekend.

“I think the first thing is never underestimate your opponent,” senior defenseman Lauren Williams said. “But I think we also learned a lot from that weekend against Northeastern and (Boston University) in that this year we have played very much as a team regardless of what the score is.”

The 4-2 victory over Boston University that weekend started the five-game stretch in which Shaver posted seven points.

The three goals she scored in that span vaulted her to second on the team with nine for the season, just one shy of her total for her first two collegiate seasons combined.

The big change for her this season has been that she’s playing the more familiar center position after spending her first two seasons with UW at wing.

That move started as a Shaver preseason reminder to the coaches that she spent her whole hockey life as a center before she came to college.

“I think playing center has helped her open up her game just because she sees the puck more and she has the puck more on her stick and she tries to create some things,” Johnson said.

“Then it’s just a matter of creating opportunities. And if you get enough of them, a bunch of them are going to get to the back of the net.”

What Shaver has been able to do with the puck on her stick has helped the Badgers find what they hope will be another consistent goal-scoring source.

“With the more you play, the more confidence you get and the more you hold onto the puck,” Shaver said. “I think that’s a big thing, just not throwing it away right away like I used to do.”

Games sold out

Both games against the Mavericks, as well as the Badgers’ other four remaining home games in the regular season, are sold out. UW leads Division I women’s hockey with an average announced attendance of 2,244.

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.