Forward Brianna Decker returns for her senior season after winning the Patty Kazmaier award last season. She scored 37 goals and tallied 45 assists in her junior season.[/media-credit]Fresh off a national runner-up finish to Minnesota last season, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team drops the puck on its season Sept. 28 against Minnesota State-Mankato. Head coach Mark Johnson and the No. 2 Badgers are hoping to avenge the loss and build off the four national championships Johnson has won in his 11 years at the helm of the program.Wisconsin had its first scrimmage of the year recently, and Johnson ensured the scrimmage had a “game-like atmosphere” with referees, introductions and the use of the Jumbotron. The Badgers added eight new freshmen to the roster this year – including Johnson’s own daughter Mikayla – to replace last season’s graduating seniors.Johnson stressed the importance of giving each freshmen a glance into the atmosphere they will be seeing much of throughout the season. The coach is excited for the new crop of Badgers in the program.“It’s a fun part of our business; the expectations stay the same as a group but the fun part is to see them develop,” Johnson said. “If they’re willing to commit, if they’re willing to do the little things to prepare themselves when the opportunities present themselves, hopefully they’ll respond.”One of the most glaring holes to fill will be graduated captain Hilary Knight, who left Wisconsin as the all-time leader in points (262), goals (143), power-play goals (37) and short-handed goals (8).Though the loss of Knight will be felt throughout the program, a huge boon to the Badgers is the return of Brianna Decker, who led the team with 37 goals and 45 assists en route to winning the Patty Kazmaier Award, annually given to college hockey’s best female player.Decker will wear the captain’s “C” on her Badgers jersey, and Johnson cited the importance of her return, likening her to former stars like Knight and Meghan Duggan by noting that Decker has followed their example by refusing to change her daily routine and approach to the game.In addition to Decker’s talent, Johnson pointed to her experience playing for the national U-22 team in Calgary as an added bonus to the team. As a senior captain, the head coach hopes her presence and motivation will assist the freshmen.But Decker won’t be doing all the leading for the Badgers. She will be joined by junior goaltender Alex Rigsby, who will serve as assistant captain along with senior defender Stefanie McKeough. Rigsby led the nation in total saves with 1,044 and compiled a sterling 33-5-2 record with a .949 save percentage. Johnson is pleased that though the program lost several key players, there is ample experience to provide guidance as the season begins.When it does, Wisconsin will be moving into the brand new LaBahn Arena and will open at home against Bemidji State Oct. 19. Johnson is excited to have a new place to call home noting, “there definitely is a ‘wow’ effect when you walk in.”Johnson mentioned athletic director Barry Alvarez and others as the notable proponents in pushing for the new facility, and said it shows the athletic department is “committed to our athletes and giving the coaches the best resources possible.”Johnson also spoke about coming back after a national championship loss, and how it was different from coming back after winning a national championship.“Obviously, winning is nice, but the process doesn’t change,” Johnson said. “It continues today the same way it did 10, 11 years ago when I started.” If the past is any indication, Johnson and the Badgers appear to be in good shape to once again contend for a national title.