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Brette Pettet photo

Brette Pettet leads Badgers freshmen with nine goals and 19 points.

Brette Pettet figured that being a newcomer with the University of Wisconsin women's hockey team was going to be unlike anything she had experienced.

It has turned out to be true in more ways than one for the forward and others in the Badgers' eight-member freshman class.

The change to the faster college game shocked their systems initially. Not being a top-line player or part of the top defensive pairing was different for some.

But the Badgers coaches have no complaints with how they have handled the transition, and now the freshmen are seeing the big payoff.

"To go to the Frozen Four as a freshman, my first year," Pettet said, "it doesn't get much better than that."

Entering the national semifinals against Colgate on Friday in Minneapolis, Pettet leads UW rookies with nine goals and 19 points. She's the only one of five freshman forwards who has been on one of the top three lines all season.

Caitlin Schneider has made appearances among the more-frequently-playing groups, while Delaney Drake, Kyleigh Hanzlik and Maddie Posick have largely seen fourth-line time.

Defensemen Grace Bowlby and Natalie Buchbinder have played in all 37 games, and Breanna Blesi has been a backup goaltender.

They may not have seen the amount of playing time that they were used to with former teams, but it hasn't altered their attitude, assistant coach Jackie Crum said.

"That has been outstanding, the ability to come off the bench and fill a role, play hard and do their job and then come off," Crum said. "Or if we've asked them to come off the bench and penalty kill, they've done it with a smile on their face and they've worked hard. You don't see that every day."

Coach Mark Johnson likened it to his first year in the NHL after the 1980 Olympics, when he said he spent a lot of time with a front-row seat from the bench.

That let him observe and absorb mental notes on what he needed to improve in his game.

"I look at in a similar sense, that if I played five or six minutes or I've played 15 minutes, it's an opportunity to grow, it's an opportunity to learn," Johnson said. "And I'm sure a lot of them have learned a lot over the course of time."

That's true with Pettet, who said she feels faster and more comfortable now than back in September.

Those improvements have made her feel like she belongs.

"Yeah, you might be a freshman but you can't let that affect your game," Pettet said. "You've got to go out there confident and you've got to hold onto the puck and make good plays."

First meeting

The Frozen Four semifinal will be UW's first meeting with Colgate, which is making its first Frozen Four appearance compared to UW's fifth straight and 11th overall.

"I'm sure they're doing the same things, trying to figure out who we are and some of the tendencies that we have," Johnson said.

The Raiders, who tied with tournament top seed and defending national champion Clarkson for the ECAC Hockey regular-season championship, are among the nation's top five teams in scoring and defense.

Defenseman Lauren Wildfang was the team's only first-team all-ECAC selection, and leading scorer Jessie Eldridge was a second-team pick.

The Badgers and the Raiders have six common opponents this season. Both teams won all of their games against Mercyhurst, St. Cloud State and Syracuse. Colgate had a better record against Northeastern, including a 3-1 victory in Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal.

UW was undefeated against Minnesota Duluth and Cornell; the Raiders lost once against each team.

Put it on repeat

After a dominating victory over Minnesota on Saturday, the Badgers aren't interested in changing much before they play Colgate.

"If I had a cookie cutter-type thing, I'd take Saturday's game and just put it into next Friday night's game," Johnson said. "I'd take my chances with that."

Johnson said the 4-0 victory was the Badgers' best performance of the season in terms of eliminating time and space for the opponent and preventing scoring opportunities.

UW allowed only one shot on goal in the third period, and it was a misdirected pass from the neutral zone that rolled in on goalie Kristen Campbell with less than three minutes remaining.

The performance answered any remaining questions about UW's preparation for the big moments.

"With a young team, you don't know how they're going to react," Johnson said. "I love the way they reacted in Saturday's game against Minnesota. So what we do as a coaching staff, it's just business as usual."


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