MINNEAPOLIS – Senior Cara Piazza joined the Voice of Gopher Women's Hockey Dan Hamann before last Sunday's WCHA Final Faceoff championship win over Wisconsin. Listen as Piazza reflects on the team's growth over the season, confidence, and personal growth during her career.
Listen to Piazza's interview.
Dan Hamann: It’s championship Sunday here at GopherSports.com and I am joined by senior captain, Cara Piazza. You know, it’s been a long road to get to this point and it hasn’t been the easiest road to travel either but it seems to be very satisfying as an outside observer, watching the process and seeing what works and I’m just wondering what’s it like as a player now that you get here and it’s down to the nitty-gritty.
Cara Piazza: Yeah, our whole season, it’s been a journey. And, I think I’ve said it before, where every year, I think each team has its own struggles and it shows up on the score sheet differently. This year, I think our team has come together so well. It’s just been fun to have the whole process, from start to finish, and just to see, a lot of our freshmen have really big roles, so, just to see them really grow into their roles and be a really big part of our team, has been really fun. We just have so much confidence in each other, and we know if we go out there and play how we can, that we have confidence in the outcome and that we can do well. Regardless of what happens, I think that if we give it our all, we’ll be really satisfied in the end.
DH: Where is the confidence right now on this team? You can just see it, or at least sense it, growing, at times it has kind of gone backwards, but then again, looking from the outside in, I’m sure it’s always a bit different. But, where are we at right now as far as the confidence?
CP: Super confident. I have full confidence in our team and seeing how much everyone wants to win. And, seeing this last week of practice has been really good and just seeing this team at it’s best and so just to be able to have confidence in that, knowing that if we play our game then we’re as good as anyone. Obviously, playing against Wisconsin, some luck is going to be involved because they’re really good too, but if we go out there and just focus on the process and playing with passion rather than emotion, and just being steady throughout the whole game, regardless of what happens, we will do well. And, if we meet those process goals, then we can’t regret anything.
DH: What is the mental state, going into this game knowing that you have to win to get into the NCAA tournament? It hasn’t been like the previous three years, where, during the regular season, you built up a little bit of a cushion, you were pretty much assured a spot. But, this year, it is very, quite different. You are literally fighting for your playing career to continue.
CP: Yeah, we definitely are. I mean, each year it is a little bit different. I think it was my freshman year when we lost to Bemidji in the semis and still ended up getting the number one seed. That’s obviously so different where, today we have to win in order to make it to the tournament. Bethany brought up a great point a couple of weeks ago, where, yeah, this is so fun. Compare it to previous years when we can say, ‘Yeah maybe if we had a higher seed then we wouldn’t have to worry as much.’ I mean, it’s just like the past month or so that has just been so fun with the way the stars have aligned and, getting to go to Wisconsin last weekend and then beating Ohio yesterday was a really big win. So, I think it’s just enjoying it and not being upset that it isn’t similar to previous years, but rather, like, embracing the opportunity because, I mean, it’s so sweet just to be able to know that we are able to fight for this and it’s still in our own hands. And, we still have control of it and not to be scared of it, but rather to embrace it and lean into it.
DH: I’ve said this before on the air, and it’s playing to win, not playing not to lose. There’s a difference there, isn’t there?
CP: Oh yeah, for sure. Our team this year has been meeting with a sport psych every once in a while and, we talk about that a lot and how, she even went through statistics, how when teams play to win rather than scared, that they’re going to come out with a win more often. When we get into those situations, we just need to check our mental state and are we playing scared, are we playing scared to lose, or are we playing to win. And, I think that when we get to these games, we just need to have confidence in our abilities and do what’s best and not really change anything, because if we do, then it’s probably not going to work. I think our coaches yesterday, said something along the lines of, because our first ten minutes yesterday were a little iffy, and they were like, ‘Well, if we lose today, you might as well fricken try and lose rather than be scared and lose.’ We have nothing to lose as in, coming into that game we are ranked lower than Wisconsin and, we have the underdog which is a little different than previous years. Just like I said before, to embrace it and I have confidence in our team and the process.
DH: On a personal note, once you got here to the U. and that’s four years ago now, and, I asked Sydney Baldwin yesterday to reflect a little bit. And, I pray that isn’t the last time that we get to talk because I certainly hope that there is a next week, and a next week after that. But nonetheless, this could be the last chance I get to sit down and talk to you. And so, when you got here as a freshman, and you compare that to now, how is your mental state, your philosophy, on playing this game, has it evolved, or has it changed? If that question makes an sense.
CP: Yeah, no it definitely does. I mean, in high school, playing for the Mission, especially with our coach, Tony Cachey. He’s such a great guy. Part of his philosophy there, he didn’t really teach us many systems, but we were going to be the best conditioned team -- and we were. We skated all the time. We were really good based off skill and speed, but we didn’t really have games plans going into the games and honestly, it worked at that level. So, coming into college, every team is so similar and so good, that, to bring us to the next level, there needs to be a mental shift. I’m just focusing on systems and really taking pride in the D-zone. My freshman year, I was just really confused with how much time and effort they put into different systems and practice. In high school, I would just skate and after practice I would be so tired, where here, some practices are really hard where some are just focusing on systems. I think the past four years, I’ve come to see how little things in the game, that people don’t talk about as much, make a huge difference. I always go back to Kelly Pannek, like, skillswise, you might not be the fastest, you might not have the hardest shot, but she’s one of the best players I have ever seen. She has those intangible things in the way she sees the ice and the way she slows the game down. I was just never exposed to that in high school, because for us, at Mission, all the good players were really fast and could just skate by everyone. To see that there is another side to the game, for me, is something I have tried to incorporate in mind and, obviously still stay focused at what I’m good at -- using my speed and fighting in the corners, but also trying to hone in my inner Kelly Pannek a little bit. It’s just been so fun to watch her, and I feel like, just trying to learn by how she plays and trying to pick my moments, work smart rather than work hard in certain situations. I think for me, that’s been my biggest mental shift and philosophy since being in college for the last four years.
DH: I think it was interesting you brought up battling in the corners, because, in my mind, I think that’s what you do best. Every person has to do something for this team in order to make the team better. I like to not often bring in personal experiences but, I was an okay basketball player, but, I was a defender and I took pride in that. It’s something that doesn’t necessarily get the recognition, like the goal scorers do, when I see you, you’re a battler in the corner, and that’s something to take pride in, I assume.
CP: Yeah, I definitely take pride in it. And, I can attribute this to Mission as well. We would only practice like twice a week and we would mostly do battle drill half the time. Half the time, why I would be so tired was because we would be doing one on one battles, two on two battles, in really small spaces. And so, in high school, I took a lot of pride in it because there was a lot of emphasis on it on my team, and so, I really focused on that kind of stuff, and I mean, in college, we do a lot of battle drills earlier in the week, and so, I still take a lot of pride in that. I think that it’s just as important as scoring a goal, in my opinion. I think that if I battle in the corner and dish the puck to someone and then they score, then that’ll help. I think, yeah, it’s easier for media to focus on goals and stuff and obviously, those are so important, but, there are other parts of the game that are so important that don’t go as noticed and I still care about those a lot.
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