This is a whole new scenario for Brianna Decker.
In her career at Wisconsin, Decker has been a standout contributor, yet always there were other older, more established stars on the team.
When Decker came to the school as a freshman in 2009, there was forward Meghan Duggan, who would go on to win the Patty Kazmaier Award in 2011 as the finest player in women’s college hockey. Plus there was Hilary Knight, one of the nation’s best scorers.
In addition, the Badgers were coming off a national championship season and the roster was full of players who had helped win the title.
Three seasons later, however, Decker finds herself as the reigning queen of Wisconsin hockey. She doesn’t think of herself in those terms, of course, but for outsiders looking in, Decker is Top Badger.
Duggan and Knight are gone, as are Decker’s veteran linemates for most of the past two seasons, Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prevost.
Today, Decker is a senior (one of only six on the roster), a two-time All-American, a member of the national championship team of two seasons ago and the winner of last season’s Kazmaier Award, when she led the nation in goals (37) and tied for the national lead in points (82) as the Badgers finished just a win shy of the national championship.
Now, with new linemates and a young team, Decker knows the mantle of leadership has been passed on to her and the other veterans on the roster, and she says she’s been eager to accept the challenge, just as the players before her did.
“Leadership is a huge factor,” she said of her role this season. “I think between me and Alex Rigsby and Jordan Brickner and Stefanie McKeough — we’re the captains on the team — I think we’ve done a good job of trying to lead, trying to make everyone realize that every game’s important and every period is just as important as another one.”
Decker says part of that leadership role is to not only offer encouragement and help to younger players, but to lead by example.
“I think the huge thing this year is not to get frustrated,” she said. “I think once players see that I’m frustrated, that’s when they’re going to become frustrated or get down. So I think being confident, just going out every shift and working hard, I think players pick up on that.”
Of course as the reigning Kazmaier Award winner, Decker is going to be in the spotlight this season. No player ever has won the award in consecutive seasons (though Jennifer Boterill of Harvard won it twice, in 2001 and 2003), so obviously people are wondering if Decker can be the first.
“It would be an unbelievable experience and honor to do that,” Decker said, “but who knows what’s going to happen?”
Besides, Decker says individual achievements aren’t her focus. She still recalls how good it felt to win an NCAA title in 2011 and how disappointing it was to lose in the final to Minnesota last season.
“Our team’s pretty young this year, we’ve got a lot of new players, but that’s my main focus,” she said of winning a title in her last season. “You know, winning an award is something that’s special, but as I learned last year, it’s the last game that counts in a season and that’s what I want our team to feel. I want everyone to experience winning a national championship.”
The Badgers are off to a good start at 14-6-2 overall and are ranked No. 8 nationally in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Poll, though they have dropped their two games with No. 1 ranked Minnesota.
Decker, meanwhile, is tied for eighth in the country in scoring with 36 points (including 21 goals). She entered this season No. 4 all-time in points at Wisconsin (216), and is closing in on Knight’s leading 262. With 102 goals going into the season, she also was closing in on Knight’s school-record 143.
This season, Decker is working with two sophomore linemates, Karley Sylvester and Katy Josephs. Decker says they’ve been playing better together as the season has progressed. The chemistry isn’t quite what it was with Ammerman and Prevost, but it’s improving.
“When they’re playing well, they are consistent, moving the puck really well, making plays,” says Decker.
As the clock ticks down on her college career, Decker is asked about her future beyond Wisconsin — about getting a chance to make the U.S. Olympic Team that will play at Sochi in 2014.
Yes, she says, that’s a goal. She’s been on the national team for a couple of years now, and it’s been something she’s worked toward.
But for now, she still has some unfinished business at Madison.
“When I’m at Wisconsin, playing Wisconsin hockey, that’s all I worry about,” she says. “Doing things to make this team successful. After this year is when I’ll start worrying about the Olympics.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.