The early energy inside LaBahn Arena had been quashed so completely that the only noise heard was the digital dings of the ticket scanners admitting some late arrivals.
Emily Clark didn’t notice that detail in the seconds after her injury. The thought that was in her head was more like this: No, no, no, no.
The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey senior had her left leg bent backward underneath her after contact near the boards in the opening 90 seconds of the Oct. 13 game against Minnesota Duluth.
Moments later — although, to Clark, it felt like 20 minutes — she was being helped off the ice toward an uncertain future.
How much of her final season with the Badgers was she going to miss? Was the big international event coming up on the calendar — the Four Nations Cup in her hometown — going to be out of the question?
“A lot of thoughts go through your mind,” Clark said.
UW’s top-line center felt like she was in midseason shape after an Olympic redshirt year. Then she was on the sidelines, trying to avoid dwelling on what she would miss in her projected month off from games.
Clark returned to the Badgers lineup last weekend and has a new mindset out of the experience.
“You missed all those home games, all those practices senior year,” she said. “But now it’s just a matter of shifting my focus to make the most of what I have left.”
The top-ranked Badgers host Harvard on Friday and Saturday, and Clark is still working her way back to full strength after the ankle and knee injuries set her back.
She had to sit out the Four Nations tournament in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but Hockey Canada still brought her along to do some autograph signings and talk with youth players that are hoping to follow her path.
Back home, wanting to play and having a bad day, Clark took to heart some words of wisdom from her mom: What a waste of time it would be if she didn’t learn something from the experience.
“You realize the fuel that you have and that burning desire to play when you’re not able to,” Clark said. “It definitely makes you take less things for granted. Not a single practice, workout, shift at that point.”
The Badgers were 4-0 when she was injured. They were 11-1 when she returned and added two more victories over Bemidji State with her back in the lineup last weekend.
Adding Clark back to the forward corps made UW deeper and able to play four lines longer in the game, coach Mark Johnson said.
“It’s tough to compete when a team’s able to do that, and keep the energy level up and keep the speed up,” he said. “So having her in the lineup is a very positive thing.”
That’s an understatement for an Olympian with 126 points and a plus-115 rating in 120 collegiate games. But it’s easier to notice after seven full games and most of an eighth without Clark.
While she was out, Clark tried to take on a different role of bringing energy to the locker room. Her teammates returned it to her while she was working to get back.
Some of them brought her meals. Alexis Mauermann did her laundry while Clark was on crutches.
A trying few weeks, both emotionally and physically, gave Clark some perspective.
“I’m big on reflecting,” she said. “I took some notes throughout the whole process that I can reflect on on days to come. You can put yourself back into that feeling and where you were and definitely use that to motivate you moving forward.”