The #2 ranked University of Minnesota Women's Hockey team will get back into WCHA play this weekend when they host arch rival #3 ranked Wisconsin at Ridder Arena. The Gophers will be looking to continue their record 13-game winning streak against the Badgers. The opener will be 4:30 on Saturday, and the finale will be 2:00 on Sunday.
The Gophers have a 42-26-8 all-time record against Wisconsin and have won the last 13 against the Badgers. The Gophers swept a series in Madison earlier this season when the Badgers were the #1 team in the country by scores of 4-1 Friday night and a 2-1 overtime win on Saturday. The Gophers senior class has a 14-1-1 record all-time against Wisconsin, and all juniors or younger have never have never felt the frustration of losing to the Badgers.
The Gophers are coming off of a weekend sweep of St. Lawrence this past weekend, while this will be Wisconsin's first series of 2015. That may bode well for the Gophers who will hope that the Badgers come out rusty. The Gophers got an amazing weekend out of Senior co-captain Rachael Bona who finished with five goals and an assist in the two games. Freshman Kelly Pannek also added six points in the form of four goals and two assists. For their performances, Bona and Pannek were named the Co-WCHA Players of the Week this week. Dani Cameranesi also added six assists to bring her season total up to 36 points on the season, good enough for fourth in the nation, but only second on the team behind Hannah Brandt's 41. In goal, the Gophers are anchored by Amanda Leveille who ranks fifth in the country with a goals against average of 1.19, and fourth with a save percentage of 94.5%. She is also fifth in the country with five shutouts.
Wisconsin comes into the series with a 17-2-1 record on the season, with their only two losses coming against the Gophers. The Badgers enter the weekend with a nine game winning streak and will look to get revenge for the last three seasons against Minnesota. They are led on offense by a trio of forwards. Karley Sylvester leads the team in points with 25. However Brittney Ammerman and Annie Pankowski are right behind with 24 each. Ammerman leads the team with ten goals and has scored fifteen points in her last nine games. Wisconsin has an impressive team offense, ranking third nationally in scoring offense with 4.05 goals per game. They only trail the two teams ahead of them in the national ranks, #1 Boston College and the #2 Gophers who are averaging 4.81 goals per game.
The Badgers are led defensively by goaltender Ann-Renée Desbiens. She ranks eighth in the country with a save percentage of 93.7%, and seventh in the country in goals against average with 1.22. She is second in the nation with 7 shutouts in 17 games.
The teams are once again evenly matched defensively, as the Gophers rank #2 averaging 1.05 goals per game, and Wisconsin is #3 allowing 1.10 goals per game. Special teams will be where the Gophers will need to take advantage. The Gophers have the #1 power-play in the nation with a success rate of 33.75%. Gopher defenseman Milica McMillen leads the nation with seven power-play goals. However, the Badgers have the nation's #1 penalty kill with a success rate of a whopping 95.4%. The Gophers have a distinct advantage playing shorthanded as they are #8 in the nation with a 88.4% kill rate, and Wisconsin's power-play lags behind at 19th in the nation at just over 17%. Neither team takes a lot of penalties, with both just averaging a hair over seven penalty minutes a game.
All-in-all it looks like another classic Gopher/Badger series. The Gophers will have a home crowd advantage on their hands which should help. The Gophers are an amazing 53-2-2 in their last 57 home games dating back to February of 2012. And the two teams will get some national attention this weekend as well. Saturday's game will be aired live on BTN beginning at 4:30, as well as being aired on 105 The SCORE radio in the Twin Cities.
I will also be in the press box for both Saturday and Sunday's games so follow me on twitter for in-game updates.