After getting swept at Notre Dame last weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will look to regroup against the rival Wisconsin Badgers in the Border Battle this weekend at Mariucci Arena. It will be the 283rd and 284th meetings all-time between the rival teams. The Gophers lead the all-time series 166-93-23.
Minnesota will look to keep a seven game home winning streak alive this weekend. Minnesota dropped its first game of the year at home but have not lost since on the big ice at Mariucci. Meanwhile, the Badgers will look to keep their Friday night success in Minnesota going. Wisconsin has won or tied eight of the last nine Friday night games at Mariucci Arena including a 3-2 win last season. The Badgers will introduce a new crop of players to the annual battle this year. 7 of the 20 Badgers presumed to suit up this weekend have never played Minnesota, with Goalie Kyle Hayton having faced them with his previous school—St. Lawrence.
Wisconsin comes in as the #14 ranked team in the country after splitting a home series last weekend with Mercyhurst. The Badgers lost on Saturday 3-2 before winning Sunday 4-2. Hayton has been the most important newcomer to Wisconsin after transferring in from St. Lawrence. He has not been as sharp as the Badgers have hoped so far this season posting just a 7-5-2 record on the season. He has just a 2.65 goals against average and a save percentage of an even .900.
Offensively the Badgers come in scoring 3.47 goals per game which is good enough for 9th in the country. Mike Eaves hockey this is not. Ryan Wagner and Will Johnson each have 14 points on the season to pace the Badgers, with a slew more with 13 points. Wagner’s 7 goals also lead the team. According to Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal these are the Badgers projected lines for Friday night:
Besides Matthew Freytag, Trent Frederic and Sean Dhooghe, the projected forward lineup has Cameron Hughes centering Seamus Malone and Will Johnson, Tarek Baker between Linus Weissbach and Ryan Wagner, and Jarod Zirbel as pivot for Jason Ford and Jason Dhooghe.
Defensive pairs are the same as they've been all season: Josh Ess with Peter Tischke, Wyatt Kalynuk with Jake Linhart, and Tyler Inamoto with Tim Davison.
Minnesota will look to find its scoring touch after a disappointing weekend in South Bend. The Gophers were shut out 1-0 on Friday night and lost 5-2 on Saturday night with both goals coming on Mike Szmatula power play tallies. Minnesota Had 28 even strength shots on goal Friday and another 25 on Saturday but could not put one in the Irish net. Minnesota has struggled to score of late after going on a tear to start the season. They average just 2.75 goals per game, which is 31st in the nation.
Szmatula has come on of late and now is just one point away from becoming the 84th member of the Gopher 100-point club. Of course 68 of those 99 points came when Szmatula was a member of the Northeastern Huskies before transferring to Minnesota. The Gophers will look for another senior, Leon Bristedt to find the net against the Badgers. He leads all current Gophers with 12 points in 12 games against Wisconsin.
Eric Scherhorn will start another two games for Minnesota this weekend—his 92nd and 93rd consecutive starts. He did not play poorly last weekend, but got no help in front of him. he will need to be sharp early as the Badgers have scored first in 12 of their 17 games this season and are 8-3-1 when scoring first.
This weekend will be the first of two in December that will shape the Big Ten standings going into the holidays. Notre Dame is currently running away with the conference lead sitting with 18 points and a 6-0 record after sweeping Ohio State, Penn State and the Gophers. They travel to Michigan State this weekend before playing a pair in Madison next weekend. The Gophers have played in 8 Big Ten games, two more than Wisconsin and have an 11-10 edge in points. The Gophers will travel to Columbus for a series against the Buckeyes next weekend while the Badgers and Irish face-off. Ohio State has also just played 6 conference games and they sit just two points back of the Gophers with a series at home against Penn State this weekend.
Minnesota could really use a sweep over the Badgers this weekend to position themselves well in the conference race. While its too early to say anything definitive, if the Badgers would sweep the Gophers it would effectively end any chances Minnesota has to win a fifth consecutive Big Ten regular season title. It’s an important weekend, and both teams know it. Hopefully we see some great hockey.
HOW TO WATCH
#12/14 Wisconsin Badgers @ #7 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, Minnesota
When: 7:00 Friday and Saturday
TV: Fox Sports North Plus
Radio: 1130 AM, 103.5 FM, I Heart Radio App