Former Badgers set to face off in Olympic women's hockey

Posted: 2:07 PM, Feb 14, 2018
Updated: 2018-02-14 15:20:23-05

There will likely be no love lost among old friends when the United States faces off against Canada in women's ice hockey.

"It's one of those things where we respect each other but we're ready to battle and compete against each other every time we step on the ice," USA goaltender Alex Rigsby said.

Rigsby will be one of nine former Badgers competing in the rivalry game in Pyeongchang on Wednesday night. Five of the Wisconsin alum are on Team Canada, and another four play for Team USA.  

Such a strong Wisconsin presence shouldn't come as a surprise considering who coaches the Badgers; Mark Johnson, a member of the 1980 'Miracle on Ice' team that won gold for Team USA at Lake Placid. 

"Coach Johnson was a big role model for all of us," USA forward Briana Decker said. The Dousman, WI native played for Wisconsin from 2009 to 2013. "You look at the path that he went on and a lot of us aspire to do the same thing." 

38 years later, coach Johnson has built a women's hockey empire. Seven conference championships, and four national championships in Madison.

His secret to success? Simple.

"You have to make it fun," Johnson said. "I probably take that from my dad when I played for him [at the University of Wisconsin]. If I can get my players to understand the fun part of it, they'll come to the rink with a smile on their face."

Those smiles will quickly fade before the puck drops in Pyeongchang. The rivalry between USA and Canada is more important now than any collegiate comradery. 

"It's a tough situation sometimes but we all support each other because we all played at Wisconsin," Decker said.

The United States and Canada have met in the Gold Medal game in four of the last five Olympics. Team USA won Gold at Nagano in 1998, but Team Canada has taken the top medal in every Olympics since. When the two teams meet Wednesday in the preliminary round, a former Olympic legend will be watching back in Madison. 

"We're proud of each one of them and certainly excited to watch the Olympics this year because we have a lot of people to root for," Johnson said.