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NCAA Frozen Four: Gophers and Badgers Again Battle Each Other For Title Chance

Minnesota and Wisconsin have been in this position many times before.

Minnesota will hope to see similar images tonight
Minnesota will hope to see similar images tonight

Here we are again.  Frozen Four semifinals.  Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Groundhog's Day had nothing on this. The Gophers and the Badgers will square off in the national semifinals for the second straight year, and for the fifth time in the NCAA Tournament.  Both teams have taken two of the four NCAA Tournament games, but the Gophers have taken the last two. Can they make it the last three tonight?

Wisconsin had a stretch in the mid- 2000s where they dominated the Gophers.  As Gopher senior All-American defenseman Rachel Ramsey put it, "It was a little bit different my freshman year because we were chasing Wisconsin at that time. I remember then, if we split with Wisconsin, we were excited and thought it was something to celebrate about." However, that all seemed to chance when Minnesota defeated Wisconsin to win the 2012 National Championship in Duluth.  They seemed to get the Badger off their back.  Gopher coach Brad Frost agrees.
"Four or five years ago, we went a three or four-year stretch feeling like we couldn’t beat Wisconsin until the 2012 championship up in Duluth."

That win was game number four in a row that season where Minnesota had not lost to Wisconsin.  It proved that the Gophers could pull out the big games against the Badgers.  That undefeated streak is now up to an almost unfathomable 15 straight games without a loss to Wisconsin, including last season's 5-3 win in the NCAA Semifinals in Connecticut.  This year's Seniors have an all-time record of  15-1-2 against Wisconsin.  The juniors and below have never....NEVER lost a game to their archrival.  That's incredible.

Wisconsin meanwhile wants history to be just that...history.  They don't want to look back.  They don't care about the streak.  All they care about is that the game starts 0-0 at 5:00 tonight.  As Badger coach Mark Johnson put it, You can’t change history. That is one thing we can’t control but we can learn from history and that is the challenge we have tomorrow afternoon. We were in that game last year and we played a really strong game but it just seems that in the last little bit we’ve come up short. Two of our last three games [against Minnesota] have gone into overtime and one ended in a tie. Minnesota’s players have been able to make plays but that’s just a piece of history. We’re just concentrated on the future."  Badger Blayre Turnbull echoed her coaches sentiments. "We were in this exact same situation last year, playing Minnesota in the semifinal round and being the lower seed.

It’s an exciting game and an exciting match-up. Whatever has happened in the past between these two teams is completely irrelevant at this point. -Wisconsin forward Blayre Turnbull

All four games the Gophers and Badgers have played this season have been close.  Two went to overtime, with the gophers pulling out a win in Madison, and getting an extra point in a shootout after a tie in Minneapolis.  The other two games, but 4-1 Gopher wins allowed Minnesota to score early and take control of the game.  That will be key to tonight's contest as well.  The Gopher defense is very good.  The  Badger defense might be even better.  But, Minnesota has shown when it can score early and take an early lead, they can control the style of the game.  All three of the Gophers losses this season have come in shutouts.  All three came to the First and Second team All-American goalies this season.  Ann-Renee Desbiens has the talent to shut out the Gophers.  She is an outstanding goalie, but for some reason, it appears Minnesota has her number.  The Gophers will hope that that continues today.

Both Frost and Ramsey know that today will be a challenge, and that they cannot rely on whatever psychological edge they may have over Wisconsin. As frost puts it,"Tomorrow is a 0-0 score when the puck drops. We have to play at our best." But Ramsey says the Gophers will be ready. "For us, it’s about playing loose and fast, and having fun. It’s not like coming in 39-0 and being expected to seal the deal. It’s just a great team ready to play some great hockey. Against Wisconsin, there will be extra motivation to put the puck in the back of the net."

I think this game will be close, and I think it will be the Gophers stars who lead them to a victory.  Hannah Brandt, Dani Cameranesi, Rachel Ramsey...all have had big games against the Badgers this season.  Tournament time is when stars come out to shine, and I think they will do that for Minnesota tonight.  My final prediction:  Minnesota wins 5-3 with an empty net goal sealing it at the end.

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