In senior year, co-captain Sophia Shaver plays a new role for Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team
Sophia Shaver didn’t have to wait for senior day to experience the first stages of the emotional barrage that she knows will come to a head on Saturday.
“You’re happy. You’re sad. You’re kind of nostalgic,” said Shaver, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey co-captain. “I’ve been looking through pictures of all my time here and thinking about how far I’ve come and how many amazing experiences I’ve been through.”
She and the top-ranked Badgers hope the final weekend of regular-season play carries another unprecedented experience.
UW can become the first team to win four straight Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles when it hosts No. 10 Ohio State on Friday and Saturday at LaBahn Arena.
The Badgers have a two-point lead over Minnesota with two games left, so you can add that element to what already is a big weekend for six UW seniors.
“It’s one of the hardest trophies you can win because it means that you competed throughout the entire season,” Shaver said. “You never really took a game off or a couple games off. So I think it would be really special for us, especially with all the talent on all the other teams this year. To get four in a row, that would be great for the program.”
As Shaver was flipping through the images of her college experience, she was struck by how different she was as a freshman. The maturity and confidence that she displays now wasn’t as prominent back then.
“It’s only been four years,” she said, “but how much you grow through your college experience is just amazing.”
That growth helped her adjust to a different role in the Badgers’ forward corps this season. As a junior, she posted career-high totals for goals (12) and points (24) while being tasked with top-line minutes and power-play opportunities.
With Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark returning from Olympic redshirt seasons, and with freshmen Sophie Shirley and Britta Curl getting power-play time, Shaver has been less central to the offensive effort this year.
She had just one point through 12 games and has six goals and 14 points in 32 contests overall.
“I’m not going to lie: At first, it was hard for me to be put in a different role and have more of a defensive role,” Shaver said. “But I’ve gotten used to it and I’ve learned to accept it and I’m happy with doing what will help this team succeed in the future. So if that’s me putting some time in on the penalty kill instead of the power play, I’ll do that.”
One thing that has never changed with Shaver, Badgers coach Mark Johnson said, is her work ethic.
“Every practice, every game, you know what you’re going to get,” Johnson said. “She’s going to play hard. She’s going to work hard. She’s very competitive. And I think she’s done a great job, not only on the ice this year but certainly to help lead our team.
“When you put a ‘C’ on somebody’s jersey, sometimes they’re going to react to that situation a little bit differently. But she’s done an outstanding job.”
When she and Pankowski were named co-captains in July, Shaver said she hoped it wouldn’t change her approach. Seven months later, she’s confident that it hasn’t.
“She’s very calm and she’s very level-headed,” Pankowski said. “That’s something that I really admire about her.”
The arithmetic for the WCHA title is fairly simple for the Badgers. Two victories (six points) or a victory and a shootout win (five points) against Ohio State clinches the newly renamed Julianne Bye Cup outright, no matter how the Gophers do at Bemidji State.
Other combinations of results that leave UW and Minnesota tied get into the depths of WCHA tiebreakers because the teams split their four-game series. The top seed gets a quarterfinal bye.
Before Saturday afternoon’s regular-season finale, UW will honor Shaver, Pankowski and its four other seniors: forwards Clark and Sam Cogan and defensemen Mikaela Gardner and Maddie Rolfes.
They’ll have to refocus quickly on seeing their championship drive through to the finish.
“Especially with two really important things that could happen this weekend, you’ve got to be in tune with your emotions,” Shaver said. “We’re going to have that ceremony before the game and just have to be able to flip the switch and get into game mode, because it is a big opportunity for us this weekend. It would be really amazing for us to accomplish that.”