As the 2012 NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament gets underway this weekend, and Wisconsin looks to earn its third national championship in four years, Badgers sophomore forward Brittany Ammerman has a sense of urgency beyond her years.
Of course, it’s not that any underclassman at Wisconsin — or any of the eight participating schools, for that matter — is thinking that there will be other chances to chase an NCAA championship. Far from it. However, with Brittany’s older sister, Brooke, in her senior year with the Badgers, every game that Wisconsin plays from here on out — starting with Saturday night’s game against Mercyhurst at the Kohl Center — could be the last the two sisters play together.
“Playing with Brooke the past two years has been a great experience,” Brittany said. “It’s a lot of fun to play with your sister, so I think that this being our last year – and these next couple of weekends being our last times to play together for the rest of our lives – it makes me put my head more in a place as if I was a senior. That’s how I’m looking at the game. Not that many people get to play at this high a level with their sisters and get to do it for two years, and get to be in the position that we’re in.”
Still, when the sisters from River Vale, N.J., shared an NCAA championship for the first time — at the 2011 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four in Erie, Pa. — they got a reminder of how close they came to not playing together at all. After all, when the Badgers took the ice against Boston College for the first national semifinal of the tournament, Brittany could have easily been on the opposite end of the ice.
“A few days before I visited the University of Wisconsin,” Brittany said, “I had been at Boston College. That was one of my dream schools, along with Wisconsin, and I had visited there, and I was kind of in a little high school mood where I didn’t want to follow in Brooke’s footsteps. Until I actually got on campus at UW, I wanted to go to Boston College, but then seeing the fans here, and the atmosphere, and how they help you as a student, not just as an athlete, I decided to come here. I think it’s the best decision I’ve made in my life.”
Once Brittany visited Madison, it didn’t take much to convince her to follow her big sister, but still, seeing the Eagles at the Frozen Four sparked conversation among the entire Ammerman family.
“That was something that our whole family reflected on throughout the summer,” Brooke said, “what we would have done and how tough that would have been for us. Our family is so close. It would have been interesting to see how that would have been. We’re glad it wasn’t like that. It definitely would have been tough if she was on the other team, being so close to each other. I’m just really happy she came here.”
As fate would have it, the Badgers and Eagles are on a collision course again, with Wisconsin and BC seeded first and fourth respectively in the eight-team tournament. A Wisconsin win against Mercyhurst on Saturday night and a BC win against St. Lawrence on Saturday afternoon would mean a return engagement of last year’s semifinal at the 2012 NCAA Women’s Frozen Four next weekend in Duluth, Minn.
This time around, though, both Ammermans are an even bigger part of Wisconsin’s scoring attack, which is second in the nation at 4.59 goals per game. Brittany has built on her 25-point freshman season (13 goals and 12 assists in 39 games) to 28 points (11g, 17a) in 37 games as a sophomore. Brooke, meanwhile, has gone from being fourth on the Badgers in scoring as a junior (17g, 29a) to being fourth in the nation, with 32 goals and 42 assists in 37 games.
“I’m healthy this year,” Brooke said, “and that’s a big part of it. I also think that year by year, your role is going to change, and my role was different last year, being on a line with two freshmen and making sure that they were ready to play. I’ve moved up to the first line, and that’s been a great opportunity.
“It’s also my last year, so I kind of want to go out with a bang.”
Naturally, though, individual performance is a secondary concern, particularly at this point in the season. What matters is an NCAA championship, which would tie Wisconsin with WCHA rival Minnesota-Duluth for the most national titles in NCAA women’s hockey history. More importantly for the Ammermans, it would be the perfect end to two great years of playing together in Madison.
“It’s a unique experience,” Brooke said. “I don’t think that many siblings that I know of have had the opportunity to be that successful at such a high level. It’s fun. We’d just like to do it again.”