How women’s hockey became a Wisconsin dynasty

Credit: Wisconsin Badgers

By Christina Lorey

March 4, 2024

The University of Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team is synonymous with winning.

Among their accomplishments?

  • Seven national championships (an NCAA record)
  • Nine conference championships
  • Five Patty Kazmaier Memorial Awards
  • Four National Coach of the Year awards (and countless accolades for individual players)
  • 24 consecutive winning seasons (and counting)

With this many achievements, you might think women’s hockey has been around forever. What a lot of people don’t realize, however, is that women’s hockey is still a relatively new official college sport. So how did the Badgers get so good, so quickly?

Here are three things you (probably) don’t know about the burgeoning dynasty:

Female Badgers have been lacing up their skates for more than 50 years.

In 1973, Marianne (Anderson) Larson, Jill Steinberg, and Karen Schwarz founded the inaugural UW Women’s Hockey Club. The previous year, the United States passed Title IX, prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education activities and programs receiving federal funds, but it would be 25 more years before the UW–Madison Athletic Board added women’s ice hockey to the intercollegiate athletic program.The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) didn’t add the women’s competition until the 1999–2000 season.

The team’s head coach is familiar with “miracles.”

Mark Johnson didn’t need an introduction when he took over the role of head women’s hockey coach in 2002. He’d spent the previous six years as an assistant coach for the UW men’s hockey program, and before that, he was a highly-decorated player himself–representing USA Hockey in 13 international tournaments. His biggest moment as a player came in 1980, when he scored two goals in the “Miracle on Ice” game against the Soviet Union (later memorialized in the 2004 Disney film Miracle) and added an assist on the game-winning goal against Finland to win the gold medal for Team USA.

BONUS: Before he was Mark Johnson of “Miracle fame,”Johnson was just the son of “Badger Bob”, the legendary UW men’s hockey coach from 1966 to 1982 who led the program to its first three national titles — one of which his freshman son helped win in 1977.

Badger hockey alum have been critical to raising the sports’ profile (and pay!)

In 2017, Hilary Knight, a four-time Olympian and winner of the first-ever IIHF Female Player of the Year Award and her teammates on Team USA (including captain and fellow Badger Meghan Duggan) threatened to boycott the IIHF women’s world championship in response to stalled negotiations over equitable pay. She’s an executive committee member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, a nonprofit organization created in 2019 in response to dissatisfaction with compensation and operations in the Premier Hockey Federation. Duggan — a Kazmaier Award winner, three-time Olympian, two-time Team USA captain, and gold medalist — is the president of the Women’s Sports Foundation, an organization founded by tennis player Billie Jean King in 1974 to promote female involvement in sports.

MORE: How Shaka Smart Turned Milwaukee into a Basketball Powerhouse in Two Short Years

Author

  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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