After unknowns of arm surgery, Wisconsin Badgers’ Britta Curl enjoys strong freshman season
It’s normal for freshmen to arrive at college with a healthy supply of trepidation about their new world.
Britta Curl’s experience had that and a whole lot more.
She joined the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team after a long stretch off the ice and with a fresh set of scars reminding her of the work that doctors couldn’t guarantee would cure the pain she had in her left arm.
The first time she took the ice with her new team for offseason workouts was the first time Curl had skated since surgery in April to add a chunk of bone to her radius.
“It was a little scary just because it was a long process,” Curl said. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to get back to normal.”
She’s there now and enjoying a good freshman season with the No. 1 Badgers, who host Syracuse in their final non-conference series on Saturday and Sunday.
A left wing, Curl has shown enough offensive flair in the first half to earn a spot on the power play and has scored four times in eight games since being moved up on the forward lines.
Her poise with the puck and decision-making have grown, said Badgers assistant coach Jackie Crum, who also noted Curl’s strong on-ice work ethic.
But none of that was a sure thing a few months ago, and it was because of an injury suffered more than four years earlier.
Curl broke her left forearm in eighth grade, an injury that initially seemed to heal well enough for her to enjoy a highly decorated high school career for the Bismarck Blizzard in North Dakota.
But during her senior season, as she was finishing a prep career that included four state titles and 189 goals in 119 games, she started experiencing pain down her forearm.
The radius, one of two bones that connects the elbow to the wrist, is naturally shorter than the ulna. Curl’s, however, had stopped growing altogether after the eighth grade break.
The remedy was surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where doctors cut Curl’s radial bone in half and extended it using a chunk taken from her hip bone.
Curl has scars on both sides of her wrist but has fully recovered, she said.
“It was a pretty weird situation,” she said. “And they couldn’t make any promises on how it was going to go. So I’m very fortunate.”
In a deep forward corps, Badgers coaches initially had Curl slotted on the fourth line. After eight games, she joined second-line center Abby Roque and freshman right wing Sophie Shirley for a trio that has since been responsible for eight of UW’s 17 even-strength goals.
Also in those last eight games, Curl leads the team and is eighth nationally among forwards with 13 shot blocks.
“It’s just always something that I’ve taken pride in,” she said of her play in the defensive zone. “It’s something that everyone needs to do on the team, so I’m no different.”
Curl, who chose UW over Minnesota and Boston College, had to be prepared for the step up from playing in high school and with the U.S. Under-18 team to practicing every day with some of the best players in college hockey.
An already high skill level has been drawn up by working with and against her teammates, Crum said.
“She’s a pretty even-keeled person,” Crum said. “I don’t think she gets too high or low. So I don’t think the pressure gets to her at this level, so that’s part of the reason why she’s been able to elevate her game from that standpoint. I think she’s having fun out there.”
A 15-1 record and the No. 1 ranking is a good way to have fun. But Curl said the Badgers aren’t taking anything for granted in the last two weeks before a four-week holiday break from games.
USA Hockey announced on Wednesday that Curl will spend part of the break in its winter training camp in Michigan Dec. 17-21. Teammates Annie Pankowski, Maddie Rolfes, Abby Roque and Sophia Shaver and former UW players Brianna Decker, Hilary Knight and Alex Rigsby also are among the 44 on the roster.
Before that, the Badgers play at St. Cloud State next weekend after hosting the Orange.
“It could be easy for everyone to get focused on Christmas, but the team’s really determined right now to close out the first half strong,” Curl said. “We have two opponents that could easily come out and surprise people, so we’re ready for that.”