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Mark Johnson: "Obviously a couple things we're real excited about. One is yesterday afternoon, winning our first-ever WCHA playoff championship, especially in Minnesota's backyard, was something real special. It's nice standing on the ice and watching our fans and most importantly watching the excitement that players were showing as they accepted the trophy and took the pictures with different classes.
"When you start the journey out in September, you never know what the end is going to be like. You watch the kids practice and compete and they are passionate about what they do on a daily basis for about six months, and the last couple weeks you watched some of the things that they've been rewarded with.
"From a coaching standpoint, and I know all our coaches feel the same way, it's just fun to watch your kids enjoy some of the experiences they've had the last couple weeks. Now getting the opportunity to host an NCAA championship game in our backyard and with only eight teams left, there are a lot of exciting things going on."
Mark, last year you guys had to go on the road. And you mentioned I think earlier this year, that you thought maybe if that game had been in a different venue, maybe the result was different. How much of an advantage at this level is having it at home?
MJ: "Well, I think it's the opportunity to play in front of your home crowd. The opportunity to have your band, just the excitement your facility can create for your players, it might just be the edge you need in getting over the hump in a particular game. The big thing for our players is just to do what they've done all year and not get caught up in the moment, because after 60 minutes, it can be gone real quick.
"I think from the excitement our fans can bring to the rink at the Cap Ice Center, the opportunity to be comfortable and relaxed all week in your own setting and not having to travel plays a huge part. And now that we've been through the process once, we've got some experience. So, you combine those two things together and it gives an opportunity that we didn't have last year."
Mark, how comfortable do you, will you feel at Cap Ice playing? I know you have in the past, but is it truly a home-ice advantage?
MJ: "I think it is. I know my freshman and sophomore years here at Wisconsin, we played a playoff series each year at Hartmeyer Ice Arena because the Coliseum was booked with the World Dairy Expo at that time. So two things come to mind.
"One we're one of eight teams that are still playing. And two, we're hosting the game. So whether it's at the Cap Ice Center, the Kohl Center, the Eagles Nest, I think it's still an advantage to our program. When I first took over, I think my first year we played six games out there. We've played Minnesota that season out there. We played St. Cloud State out there.
"Our seniors have played in that building. The nice thing is this week falls into spring break, so we get an opportunity to practice out there for three or four days. The excitement is playing in the tournament. Now you tell me where we're going to play and I'll go there."
Sara, just your thoughts about what it is about this group of girls that has enabled you guys to be so successful this season and continue to get the records that you've been doing all year.
Sara Bauer: "I think we did a really good job this year coming together as a team. It's a lot of unselfish players and just coming to the rink every day and working hard, it's really shown in our record."
Coach, as good as you've been this year, especially as dominant as you've been lately, what do you have to do to keep things kind of status quo this week and not let things kind of spiral out of control as far as, as you said, you're only one of eight teams left. How do you go about keeping the girls kind of status quo with where you're at?
MJ: "Well, I think you continue to do the things you've done all year and don't change too many things. Obviously we've got an opponent we haven't seen. You try to gather some information. And the big thing is to do and have a normal week and don't try to do anything crazy or different and throw people out of their rhythm.
"Obviously I thought our game Saturday was one that was very enjoyable to watch. We played as well as we have all season. And then we came back yesterday afternoon and beat a real tough Minnesota team in their backyard, who had been playing extremely well the last month. So my philosophy is to continue what we've done all season and don't change too many things."
Regarding your opponent, Mark, how much do you know about them at this point?
MJ: "Well, they're probably very similar to us in the standpoint that when they opened the tournament last year to eight teams, they got an opportunity to play in it. The two previous seasons they were right at the doorstep like we were. They got an opportunity last year to gain some experience in an NCAA game, going out to Harvard, losing in double overtime to a very good Harvard team.
"They've got players on their squad that are experienced with this venue. And I'm sure Mike (Sisti), as he always does, will prepare his team very well. It'll be a very good match-up Saturday night at the Cap Ice Center. I expect it to be a very tight game and a good competitive game."
Coach, how well do you think your regular-season schedule prepared you for this point in the season? You didn't have very many losses, but now you're getting ready to play some even stiffer competition.
MJ: "Well, our schedule, if you look at the makeup of our league and some of the non-conference games we played against Dartmouth out in Dartmouth, we played (New Hampshire) on short rest after we played Dartmouth, and UNH has been No. 1 now for probably seven or eight weeks. You look at playing Minnesota five times. You look at playing Duluth four times. St. Cloud had a very good season.
"Our strength of schedule was right up there with anybody in the country as far as difficulty and we were pretty successful in it. I think one of the things we mentioned last week was the consistency of the team from day one. Up until yesterday afternoon it's been very strong. The time now becomes when you've got to bring your ‘A' game and you've got to play up to your capabilities. If you do that, you give yourself an opportunity to move on."
Coach, how much do you think your team learned from last year's defeat in the tournament?
MJ: "Well, I think anytime you can gain experience whether you win the game or whether you lose the game, it's going to benefit the players that come back the following season. The tough thing about getting involved in things you're not used to or haven't had a chance to do is sometimes you play not to lose instead of playing to win. We talked about this this past weekend. I mean, there's a big difference to go on the ice and not wanting to make a mistake because you might lose the game.
"You've got to be relaxed, but at the same time, you've got to be excited about the opportunity and you've got to play to win. That's the object and that's the mindset you have to go into each and every game now, because if you play not to lose the game, you don't give yourself a chance to play up to your capabilities. You have to throw everything on the line right now because that's the importance of the game."
Sara, has your club played that way, as Mark has described, playing to win?
SB: "Yeah, I think so. I think we talked about that even in the game yesterday. We're going in with the lead and you can't play too cautious. You've just got to go out there and keep doing what you've been doing."
As far as the Patty Kazmaier Award, that must be a thrill for you, knowing that you're among the three finalists for that award. What's that like?
SB: "Well, I think I've probably still got the same attitude I had about it before. It's an honor and I think it's a good reflection of the program and the team. And I think, just like any one of my other teammates, what I'm most concerned about right now is going after a national championship."
Mark, is she always this humble?
MJ: "Well, as I've told you earlier, she likes to go to school, likes to play hockey, and is very good in both. But at this time of year there's certain things that will help you move on. Obviously your special teams and doing well in those areas are a big plus if they're working well. The other areas, your best players have to be playing well.
"Obviously this past weekend Cyndy Kenyon stepped up on Saturday afternoon and scored four goals. But most importantly Sara, Bobbi-Jo (Slusar), (Meaghan) Mikkelson, the players that have been consistent and played well all year stepped up and brought their ‘A' games and that's one of the reasons we were successful this past weekend."
Sara, do you hope to win a national championship or do you expect to win one?
SB: "I don't know if you want to say ‘expect' because then you maybe think things are going to come easy for you. But I know that we have the ability to do it, so I think that we're going to go in there with confidence and hope for the best."