The prevailing theme at Wisconsin women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson’s press conference Monday was the anticipation of the Badgers’ home series this weekend against Minnesota.The Badgers enter the pivotal series at 8-0 with the No. 1 national ranking. The Gophers come to Madison with a 5-1 record and the No. 2 spot in the poll. As if this rivalry needed any more drama, the top spot in the nation — as well as WCHA supremacy — will be on the line this weekend at the Kohl Center.The Badgers’ success, much like the Gophers’, has been catalyzed by a fusion of young offensive talent. Sophomore Hillary Knight has 12 goals in only six games, and freshman Brooke Ammerman has 10 in eight games.Freshman sisters Monique and Jocelyn Lamoureux lead the Gophers with 11 and nine points, respectively.“We had a hand in their recruiting process when they were going through it, but obviously they chose Minnesota,” Johnson said of the sisters. “[The Lamoureuxs] are good players, very high skill levels; both have the ability to score goals, and if you watch play, they are very competitive.”The Lamoureux sisters, along with two-time all-WCHA forward Gigi Marvin, make Minnesota the most offensively explosive team UW has seen thus far. With only seven goals allowed in eight games — including six shutouts — the Badgers have proven themselves to be a tough defensive squad.A series against the Gophers should go a long way in determining Wisconsin’s defensive capabilities. Johnson, however, is not worried about his team’s lack of difficult competition.“They know each other. I think part of getting ready for this weekend is they get excited and challenged with playing these ladies,” Johnson said. “They are friends, but they get excited. They want to beat [Minnesota].“These are weekends from a coaching perspective that you don’t need to coach much. They are going to be ready to play.”Depth aplenty for BadgersJohnson admitted this year’s team might be the deepest roster he has had at UW. With goal-scorers like Knight and Ammerman, and playmakers like Erika Lawler, Angela Keseley and Meggan Duggan, Johnson has plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal.Knight has emerged as a legitimate Patty Katzmeier Award contender, as she leads the nation with 12 goals and has looked unstoppable at times throughout the season. Johnson noted Knight’s commitment to conditioning and diligence in practice as a key to the sophomore’s success.“She’s positive. One of the things that separates [Knight] from other players is her work habits. She brings it everyday in practice,” Johnson said. “Watching her grow in the last 12 or 14 months, it’s a compliment to her and some of the goals she has set. She’s accomplished a couple of them, but I know some of the other ones are still out there and she’s working hard to get them.”Although Knight’s offensive prowess might not be the biggest surprise for the Badgers so far, according to Johnson, the emergence of freshman Brooke Ammerman ranks high on the list..“You look at Brooke, she came in a high profile goal-scorer, but again you’re adjusting to a new level play,” Johnson said. “Her early success might be a little bit of a surprise.”After this weekend, Wisconsin will be at home once again as it hosts defending national champions Minnesota-Duluth. Johnson knows that the upcoming stretch should be a good indication of how the WCHA power structure will come to fruition.“The next two weekends, we have a chance to see who we are with regards to the big picture,” Johnson said.Johnson also emphasized the historical magnitude of his team’s victory in last Saturday’s first-ever Women’s Hockey Hall of Fame game against Bemidji State at the Hippodrome in Eveleth, Minn.“For our players to have been a part of that game, it’s great that now they are a part of history,” Johnson said “It’s a unique piece of history, and certainly something we’re very proud of.”
The #Preds statement on Austin Watson: pic.twitter.com/pC5PBVYGJX— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) March 18, 2019Watson was also suspended for the first 18 games of the season after he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor domestic assault against his girlfriend in July.Watson has tallied seven goals and six assists in 34 games in 2018-19. Watson has entered the follow-up care phase of the program, the Predators said in a statement”Because of the personal nature and the steps outlined in the substance abuse and behavioral health program, and our exclusive focus on Austin and his family’s well-being, there will be no further comment on this matter,” the team’s statement read. Related News Predators forward Austin Watson suspended indefinitely for alcohol abuse Predators forward Austin Watson has been returned to active status, the NHL announced Monday.The 27-year-old winger was suspended indefinitely, without pay, in late January because of his “ongoing issues with alcohol abuse” and was admitted into Stage 2 of the NHL’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.