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When this season started in September, University of Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson had a feeling that it was going to be one where opportunities were there for the taking.

With the Badgers, personnel losses removed more than half of the goal-scoring from a year ago. Around the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in general, players being gone for the Olympics opened up new roles for others.

Still, when Johnson and his staff were drawing up plans, none of them involved Maddie Rowe as a top-line forward or a member of the power play.

Yet here she is, playing a big part for the nation's top-ranked team after seeing one of those opportunities open up.

"To me, it's the classic example of preparing yourself," Johnson said.

Rowe and the Badgers go for a sweep of WCHA trophies this weekend at the Final Face-Off in Minneapolis. They play Bemidji State in Saturday's semifinals, with host Minnesota and Ohio State also in the field.

The sophomore split time last season between the third defensive pairing and the fourth line of forwards, playing in all 40 games but scoring only two goals.

The Badgers had her slotted into a defensive role as the season started, but injuries left an opening at forward that they needed her to fill.

Through other shuffles in the line combinations, Rowe found herself playing alongside Abby Roque and Baylee Wellhausen late in the season on a line that most often goes onto the ice first.

"When you get a chance, you have to make the most of it because you're never guaranteed a second one," Rowe said. "I think it's important when you're given an opportunity to put your best foot forward and give it all you have."

Her actions have matched that sentiment. Rowe recorded her first collegiate two-goal and three-point game against St. Cloud State in the line's first game together on Jan. 27.

Her 15-point improvement over last season is the Badgers' largest for a returning player, and her five-goal jump ranks behind only Sophia Shaver.

The contribution has been noticed — and was made possible — because of the openings created by the Badgers losing their top four scorers from last year's team. Sarah Nurse and Sydney McKibbon graduated, and Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark took a year off to try to make Olympic teams.

Those four players combined to score 53 percent of the Badgers' goals last season, so new scoring sources were a must, even if the team could keep being stingy defensively.

The addition of 20 goals from senior transfer Claudia Kepler, incremental improvements from Shaver, Roque and Alexis Mauermann, and 15 goals from freshmen have helped keep the Badgers in front of opponents.

But the improvement of Rowe, who had played forward only in little amounts before coming to UW last season, has been more unexpected because of the starting point.

"She's the most versatile player," said Wellhausen, a senior co-captain. "I can't say enough good words about her because she's someone who has accepted whatever role she needs to be on the team. And she's improved in every position. She's become an excellent hockey player. And she has a lot of confidence because of that, and I think that's a huge part of why she's on the line with us."

Scoring contributions are even more vital now with Shaver sidelined after suffering an upper-body injury after crashing into the boards on Feb. 16. It's unclear when she'll return to the lineup.

Last week's first-round playoff bye for winning the WCHA regular-season title gave the Badgers some rest for injured bodies, and it appears Mauermann will be back after missing the last four games with a lower-body injury.

UW has been able to survive injuries in part because of a wide spectrum of scorers. Eleven players have scored five goals or more this season; only Sacred Heart (12 players) has more in the national collegiate women's division.

The growth that Rowe has made after what she called a shaky first season has helped, too.

"Now I feel like I've improved so much in so many different areas of my game," she said. "And it's just tremendous to see how that has translated over to the ice."


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