An opportunity born out of need is now being carried out for desire.
When the women’s hockey programs at the University of Wisconsin and UW-Eau Claire discussed scrimmaging in the 2020-21 season, it was due to a scarcity of potential opponents. But as the season took shape and it became clear that teams would only be able to play within their respective conferences, the conversations had to be put on hold.
Now a year later, the concept is becoming a reality. Even in the midst of a more normal season, the two sides have worked to meet for a tune-up scrimmage. The Blugolds will take on the Badgers in an exhibition on Monday night at Wisconsin’s LaBahn Arena. It will be the first time the Badgers have ever played an in-state opponent.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Blugolds senior Bree Osborne said. “It’s a good opportunity to help us grow as a team, and I also think it’s a great opportunity to grow the game for girls in Wisconsin as a whole. I think that’s really cool, because obviously this has never happened before.”
The Blugolds had a natural connection to the Badgers, beyond each program being a national power in its respective Division. Eau Claire native Sis Paulsen is Wisconsin’s director of operations, and she and Blugolds coach Erik Strand got the ball rolling initially.
When the schedule for this season became clearer, the Badgers wanted to add a scrimmage this week to avoid a two-week break. The Blugolds were happy to oblige.
“It just got kind of put on the back burner at the time, but I told them that we would still be interested if it was something they wanted to do,” Strand said. “It came together in the end, and here we are now.”
The Badgers are the two-time defending national champions in Division I. They’re ranked No. 1 in the country this season. The Blugolds, ranked third in Division III, reached the national quarterfinals in 2019, the last time an NCAA tournament was held.
The Blugolds know they’ll have their work cut out for them, but believe playing the top team in the nation will reveal exactly where they can improve.
“When you talk about something, there’s only so many ways you can explain it,” Strand said. “But sometimes you need to see it, and they do so many things right that for our players, we’re going to be able to watch this film and see it. I hope we have more success than failures, but we’re going to learn some valuable lessons about us that are going to connect more dots for us to get to where we’re trying to get.”
That’s the takeaway the Blugolds are most focused on. If they can pick up a few things here and there that they can put to work against Division III foes, it will have been a worthwhile experience.
“I just hope that we can really show ourselves what we can do,” Blugolds junior Hallie Sheridan said. “Obviously it might be intimidating because they’re the best, but they are the best so if we can maybe a pop a goal in or even just battle with them, it’s going to show us a lot about ourselves.”
The exhibition will also benefit charity. Tickets are not available for purchase; fans need to bring new or gently used children’s books to the arena to be admitted to the game.
“We’ve got a great fundraiser going, so it’s even taken on a different meaning than was originally intended. We couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this.”
The exhibition is set to begin at 7 p.m. on Monday.