The more things change, the more they stay the same. It may be 2019, but it will sure feel like most of the 2010’s this weekend when the top two women’s hockey teams face off at Ridder Arena once again. The #1 ranked Wisconsin Badgers will come into Minneapolis this weekend looking to try and assert their dominance over the #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers. Meanwhile, the Gophers will look to prove that they are fully back to the top after a down season and are ready to take back the WCHA regular season crown that the Badgers have held the last few seasons.
The Gophers should be amped for this weekend’s series. In fact they should have a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Minnesota and Wisconsin split their first series this season in Madison in October. Minnesota won 1-0 in the opener, and would lose 4-1 in the second game of the series to the Badgers. In fact, the Gophers have won 14 games in a row since that loss to the Badgers. Meanwhile, Wisconsin lost in Columbus to Ohio State 1-0 last Friday, yet when this week’s poll came out the Badgers still remained at #1 ahead of the Gophers. Minnesota would love to prove why they deserve that #1 ranking this weekend.
This weekend will go a long way to determine who will take home the WCHA regular season crown and get the bye directly into the WCHA Final Faceoff at Ridder Arena in March. Minnesota currently has a four point lead on the Badgers with two games in hand. However, the Gophers still have arguably their hardest series other than the Badgers yet to play as they must head to Columbus next weekend to play the third place Buckeyes. Wisconsin still needs to play each WCHA opponent two more times, but with the exception of a trip to Duluth and the Buckeyes return trip to Madison, they should have no trouble running the table. That’s why this weekend is so huge. If Minnesota can take at least four points from the Badgers they will be in a good spot to have the best possible chance to win the regular season crown, and hold the all-important tie breaker.
There is no doubt these two teams are the best in the nation, and that occurs because of their depth. While other teams may have equal talent on their top line or two, both Minnesota and Wisconsin can easily roll three solid scoring lines. Nine Gopher forwards have scored at least six goals this season and, in total, 18 different skaters have scored goals. Twelve different Gophers are in double figures for points, and 21 different players have at least one point on the year. That’s just impressive. What is even more impressive for the Gophers is that they have accomplished what they have done while not getting the results they expected from their top two players who missed the 2017-18 season. Both senior captain Kelly Pannek and junior Sarah Potomak were expected to have huge impacts for the Gophers this season. Yet, they have struggled a bit in their return to the Gophers. Pannek is currently fourth on the team in points with 20, while Potomak only has nine points on the season. Potomak has missed six games due to injury, which has definitely had an impact, but still—its a bit surprising. Yet, as we said earlier as an attribute to their depth, other players have stepped up. Sophomore Grace Zumwinkle and 5th year senior Nicole Schammel lead the team with 29 points, and Zumwinkle’s 18 goals lead the WCHA and are good enough for 3rd in the nation. Freshman Taylor Heise has stepped up with 25 points on the season. On the blue line sophomore Emily Brown has 19 points to lead all WCHA defenders. All are reasons why the Gophers are sitting where they are.
Minnesota will see if they can keep sophomore goalie Alex Gulstene undefeated on the season. She comes into the weekend with a 15-0 record. Her goals against average of 1.66 is good enough for 11th in the nation. Her record includes her 1-0 shutout of the Badgers in October. It will be interesting to see if Gulstene gets both games this weekend or if Brad Frost goes back to junior Sydney Scobee on Saturday. While Scobee has slightly better stats that Gulstene, she has not fared as well in the tougher games and has both the Gophers losses on the season on her 6-2 record.
The Badgers as usual have their loaded roster as well. Junior Abby Roque has killed the Gophers in past seasons and she leads the team with 27 points. Senior Annie Pankoski has 24 points and 15 goals to lead Wisconsin. She is a sniper who also is back after missing the 2017-18 season after being one of the last cuts on the US Olympic Roster. Wisconsin also has their WCHA Rookie of the Year candidate in Sophie Shirley. Her 22 points trail only Minnesota’s Heise in freshman scoring in the WCHA. Wisconsin has 10 players in double figures with points, so they can get production deep into their lineup as well.
In net the Gophers will need to figure out junior goalie Kristin Campbell. Minnesota only scored two goals on her in two games in Madison in October, and in eight games in her career against the Gophers has allowed just eleven goals. Her 1.14 goals against average leads the nation.
It will not be easy for the Gophers to score goals this weekend. They lead the nation with 4.46 goals per game, but they will most likely come nowhere close to that number in either game this weekend. If Minnesota is to win they will need outstanding goaltending of their own and will need to win a 1-0 or 2-1 type game. Special teams will be key. The Badgers lead the nation in power play % at 28.5, while the Gophers are 4th with a 22.6% success rate. On the penalty kill is is similarly close with the Badgers 15th in the nation at 85% and the Gophers right behind in 17th at 84.75%. The Gophers win in Madison in October came on a lone power play goal. Special teams will win or lose this series.
As always it will be a raucous atmosphere at Ridder when these two teams get together. Limited tickets are still available and the Gophers will be holding a Goldout on Saturday. Hopefully after the weekend the Gophers can prove they are the #1 team in the nation and will be in the drivers seat to winning their first WCHA regular season title since 2015. As usual the games will only be available for streaming for a fee, but beginning this weekend the audio feed of the game will be available on local radio in the Twin Cities. This weekend and for the remainder of the home games this season except one, the Gopher radio call will be broadcast on KFAN+ 96.7 FM in the Twin Cities. This also means the games will stream on the I Heart Radio App as well.
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN:
#1 Wisconsin Badgers @ #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, MN
When: 7PM Friday, 4PM Saturday
Stream: BTN + ($$)
Radio: KFAN+ 96.7 FM, IHeart Radio App