Each week WCHA.com will offer an update on the former Western Collegiate Hockey Association players playing pro hockey. The website will also offer periodic stories on former WCHA players.
By Bill Brophy for WCHA.com
MADISON, Wis. -- It was a day all working mothers could relate to. Her son was sick. There were meetings at work all afternoon. Oh, yeah there was that upcoming night class as part of her quest for an MBA.
And then she got a call from someone who wanted to talk about a past life – when Sharon Cole was an alternate captain on the 2006 National Collegiate Athletic Association women's hockey champions – the first title ever won by Wisconsin.
"Great times; seems a while ago now," said Cole, now Sharon Cole Faust.
She can tell war stories like all athletes who played collegiate athletics. She remembers games, opponents, practice sessions and, if she needed any help reminiscing, the Badgers held a 10-year reunion for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and NCAA championship team last February.
Cole Faust is not as immediately famous as many Badger hockey alums. If you follow women's hockey, there are ex-Badgers who are household names – the Patty Kazmaier Award winners like her old teammates Sara Bauer and Jessie Vetter, and the current Team USA stars such as Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Hillary Knight.
They all love the game. So does Cole Faust, who still plays hockey three times a week – in the Monday night league where she met her husband Jesse, who still tends goal against former Badgers' men players like Matt Walsh and Mike Dibble; the Wednesday league with Jesse's firefighting co-workers and the women's league on weekends with her old UW teammate Phoebe Monteleone Turner, among others.
"It is funny how much enjoyment Phoebe and I still get from playing hockey,'' said Cole Faust while taking a break from her meetings as a pharmacy benefits manager at Lumicera, a growing specialty pharmacy for Navitus. "It is a lot less competitive, but just as enjoyable."
Cole Faust is like a lot of former players in the WCHA. She still follows the game and is a fan who is likely to be seen at a Badger game three to four times a year, often bringing her 15-month-old son Roman to the games. "He doesn't even get scared when he hears the horn after a goal," mom says. "I go to games when former teammates come into town. We always meet in the same corner of the rink."
She is impressed at how the women's game has improved.
"The game has changed a lot. There is a lot more skill. The speed of the game…they shoot harder and pass quicker," said Cole Faust. "My dad came with me to a game when Roman was little and he turned to me and said, 'I'm not sure you would have made the team now.' I said 'Dad, you don't have to tell me that. I'm completely aware of how good they are now.' They have a lot of skill out there." Sharon Cole was hardly a stiff when she wore the Badgers' Cardinal and White. By the time she was a senior, Cole Faust was third on the club in goals with 15 and third in points with 39. She finished her career as a co-captain on the NCAA champs and amassed 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 147 career games as a left wing.
The Badgers won 36 games in Sharon's senior year and brought home the first of four national titles for Wisconsin. UW also has produced four Patty Kazmaier Award winners and 11 Olympians since.
"We had a really good team" Cole Faust said of the UW squad which included Bauer and Vetter, current UW assistant coach Jackie Friesen Crum plus 19 other players who all graduated. "We won everything that year. Sara won her award. We won the league, won the WCHA playoff and won the NCAA for the first time. Then the (UW) men won (the national title) on top of it two weeks later and we got to celebrate all over again. We were sky high.
"The Badgers have been very, very good since, with pieces put in places by a great coaching staff. We had a good team culture and hopefully that continues to today's players."
Cole Faust can take pride when she watches a game at LaBahn Arena. At a time when UW officials were looking for a new home for women's hockey and a practice rink for men's hockey, she stepped up and sent a big thank you note to a program that has shaped many of her values and gave her lots of memories, friends and a championship ring she still has today.
She came through with a $10,000 donation for LaBahn Arena — the 2,273-seat facility that cost $27.9 million when it opened in 2012, a year after Cole Faust got her doctorate degree in pharmacy. It is the largest donation from a former UW women's player and it was made despite Cole Faust's student loan debt that she acknowledges was in excess of $100,000 at the time.
"A lot of women made donations. It wasn't just me," said Cole Faust. She is right. Former players like Vetter, Bobbi Jo Slusar, Sis Paulsen and Jackie McMillen also sent donations, along with current and former NHL alums like Joe Pavelski, Brian Elliott, Adam Burish and Brad Winchester. "I take a lot of pride in the program and the rink was a good thing, especially for the female student athletes at a school that has done so much for me. What I did is a fraction of what the sport and the school did for me."
"Part of why I did it was because I have a sincere appreciation for the UW," said Cole Faust. "I feel there is no other campus like Madison, no better school than Wisconsin, no better program than the Badgers. The other part of that is that there are young women coming up behind me and I want them to be able to get the most of out of it. Hockey taught me so much."
She certainly learned time management skills so that she can balance being a working mom and wife and still return to school and get her masters of business in a night class at UW-Whitewater. "I guess nine years of college wasn't enough," said Cole Faust, who received her graduate degree from Wisconsin in pharmacy in 2011 after getting her undergrad degree in biology.
As she reflects back on her Badger days and life as a hockey player ("I knew I was done after playing one game after college with the Whitecaps," she laughs), she is thankful what college hockey did to enrich her life.
"Hockey has been the gift that keeps on giving," Cole Faust says. "We went through things at school, now we are going through life. When we get together we are talking about husbands, pregnancies and raising kids together. My best friends now are former teammates. Those are bonds that will be there forever."