It is that time of year again. No, not Halloween, or the rapidly approaching winter in Minnesota. Its time for the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team to take on their arch rival the Wisconsin Badgers. As almost always when these two teams get together, it will be a high ranked affair. The Gophers come into the weekend series in Madison ranked #3 in the nation, while the Badgers have taken over the #1 spot after Clarkson’s loss a weekend ago. It’s border battle time, and we are ready.
The Gophers will be trying to regain the form they had against the Badgers from 2013-through the spring of 2017. Minnesota had won or tied sixteen straight games against the Badgers including three wins in the NCAA semifinals. However, last season the Badgers flipped the script. They swept the regular season series from Minnesota for the first time in the school’s history. Minnesota got a bit of revenge upsetting the Badgers in the WCHA Final Face-off Championship game to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but Wisconsin would put the final nail in the Gophers’ season when they defeated Minnesota 4-0 in the NCAA Quarterfinals.
The Gophers come into the weekend after dropping their first game in regulation this season last weekend. #4 Ohio State came to Ridder Arena last weekend and Minnesota came away with a 3-0 win on Friday before dropping the second game of the series 3-2 on Saturday. Sophomore Alex Gulstene got her first career shutout in the Gophers win on Friday, and most likely will start the series opener on Saturday. junior transfer Sydney Scobee made 24 saves in the Gopher loss on Saturday and will most likely see her first action against the Badgers on Sunday. Both Gopher goaltenders have looked solid this season, but this will be by far their toughest test of the year.
Offensively the Gophers expected a big push from their newly reunited first line of senior captain Kelly Pannek, junior Sarah Potomak and redshirt freshman Amy Potomak. While they have not looked bad in the early going, they have not yet found their total chemistry on the offensive side of the ice, and are due for a huge breakout weekend. Defenses have been concentrating on stopping the Pots and Pan line, and that is allowing some of the Gophers other talent to flourish. Redshirt senior Nicole Schammel leads the team in scoring with 11 points on three goals and eight assists, and last season’s WCHA Rookie of the Year Grace Zumwinkle has nine points on the season including four goals.
On Wisconsin’s side, the Badgers have been rock solid in goal again on the shoulders of Kristin Campbell. She has a 1.44 goals against average coming into the weekend and is 8-0 on the season. She does only have a .908 save percentage on the season, so if the Gophers can get shots on her and get some rebounds good things could happen for Minnesota.
Offensively the Badgers will be missing one of their best players in Emily Clark. The senior center has been injured for a few weeks and will not play this week. However, Wisconisn has more than enough fire power to overcome that loss. Junior Abby Roque leads the nation with 14 points on the season, freshman Sophie Shirley was the NCAA’s third star of the week last week, and of course the Badgers still have senior star Annie Pankowski who has eight points on the season. Additionally, Makaela Gardner is one of the best blue liners as well in the WCHA.
It’s another great matchup between two very talented teams. Whoever can execute the best on the weekend will come away with the majority of the points. Thats something Minnesota will need to work on. They have struggled on special teams this season so far allowing opponents to score on the powerplay over 29% of the time. That is bad bad news against a Badger power play that is #3 in the nation at a 28.6% success rate. Gulp. Minnesota is only scoring about 15% of the time on the power-play, and it is something they will need to significantly improve on.
All in all, these games are always classics. Can Minnesota find a way to get back to their regular season winning ways over the Badgers? Or will Wisconsin continue their recent dominance in the series. We will find out soon.
#3 Minnesota Golden Gophers at #1 Wisconsin Badgers
When: Saturday, Sunday 2PM
Where: La Bahn Ice Arena, Madison, Wisconsin