Last night’s interesting and free thing was an exhibition match between UW-Madison’s women’s hockey team and the Minnesota Whitecaps, a professional women's ice hockey team in the Western Women's Hockey League. This was an appealing way to spend an evening on several levels. First, even though I live in Madison, I’d never been to a UW sporting event. Thinking on it last night, I couldn’t remember ever having been to any Division I sporting event anywhere. (Though I’ve since remembered that I went to a UNC-North Carolina State football game with my sister in the 90s. And it’s possible I may have been at a Northwestern game in the 80s with my high school marching band; I know I definitely marched in Dyche Stadium, but I don’t remember if it was in conjunction with a game or if it was just the site of a marching band competition.)
Second, I was curious to have a look inside LaBahn Arena, which opened just this (academic) year. I knew it has the new home of the hockey programs; when I got there last night, I saw on the display about the donors for whom it’s names that found out it was also used by the swimming program, which frankly baffled me. Was there a pool under the floor, like in It’s a Wonderful Life?
It also confused me that the championship banners hanging from the rafters were only for the women’s team, because the men’s team has won several national championships. I eventually decided that they hung the women’s banners during women’s games, and men’s banners during the men’s games.
But actually, I was just ignorant. Only the women’s hockey teams plays at LaBahn. The men’s team practices there, but their games are played next door at the Kohl Center. And there is in fact no pool under the ice; the swimming program’s locker rooms, sports medicine area, and team rooms are in LaBahn, but competitions are held in the adjacent Southeast Recreational Facility. (Which was itself a surprise; I’d always assumed swim meets were held in the UW Nataorium.) LaBahn also contains a dedicated dining facility for the teams that play there and in the Kohl Center. (But not the swim team? The info page on the UW athletics website is not clear on that.)
Third, I’m kind of interested by minor professional sports leagues, especially women’s leagues playing traditionally men’s sports like football or ice hockey, and since Madison doesn’t have a professional women’s hockey team of its own, I figured this might be my only chance to see a professional women’s hockey league play. (Because “kind of interested" doesn’t mean “interested enough to go to Canada or Boston.)
And fourth, as alluded to earlier, it was free. Athletics is one of the few things UW does than isn’t free to the public, so I figured I should jump to take advantage of this rare opportunity.
Anyway, the game! It was fun, though not particularly competitive; to my inexpert eye UW clearly had the better team. In the third period, it got a little bit more competitive, as the Badgers took advantage of their 4-0 lead to give their second- and third string players some time on the ice. The crowd was not large, but there were a ton of kids there. I wonder if that’s true of non-exhibition games as well? I doubt there’s a better value in Madison than women’s hockey; the tickets are inexpensive and the team is consistently good – they’ve never had a losing season, and they’ve won four national titles in the last seven seasons – so if I had a kid who liked sports, I think I’d try to get him or her interested in women’s hockey.