The #2 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team heads to Madison this weekend for the second edition of the Border Battle this season and faces a very familiar foe in the #1 Wisconsin Badgers. This will be the seventh and eighth straight game that the two teams will face off where one team was #1 in the nation and the other was #2. The Gophers will look to try and keep on a regular season hot streak against the Badgers where they are 2-0-1 in their last three regular season games.
Minnesota comes into the weekend ranked #2 in the nation after a split against #5 Ohio State last weekend. The Buckeyes came out and dominated Minnesota en route to a 4-1 win on Friday before the Gophers regrouped to gain a split with a 2-1 win outdoors on Hockey Day in Minnesota on Saturday. The Gophers remain on the top of the WCHA standings with a five point edge on the Badgers. Wisconsin however has two games in hand as they were idle last weekend.
The Gophers have a even scoring attack this season spreading it over three lines. Sarah Potomak has had a bounce back senior season and leads the Gophers with 31 points on the season. Junior Grace Zumwinkle leads the Gophers with 16 goals and is just one point behind Potomak with 30. Sophomore Taylor Heise is right on their heels with 29 points.
Minnesota’s success this season has been from a career year from senior goalie Sydney Scobee. She ranks fifth in the nation with a 1.49 goals against average and is sixth in save percentage a .939. She is second in the nation in shutouts with six. She leads the WCHA in all of those categories as well while leading the nation in minutes played by over four complete periods. It’s been a major blessing to this Gopher team who was fully planning o having Scobee split time with Alex Gulstene like they did a year ago. However, Gulsteve injured her neck in the first period of the season against Colgate and has not played since. On Thursday the news came out that Gulstene was forced to medically retire from hockey due to lingering post-concussion symptoms. It is a terrible end to a fantastic career and will set Minnesota up for some potential goaltender depth issues next season, but so far this year Scobee has picked up the load and carried this Gopher team on her shoulders.
The Badgers enter the weekend trying to avoid a losing streak for the first time in a very long time. Wisconsin was idle last weekend but lost their most recent game in Bemidji against the Beavers two weekends ago. They now get the tough task of facing the #2 team in the nation who has already taken five of six points from them this season.
What Wisconsin has going for them this season is explosive scoring. They lead the nation as a team scoring 4.79 goals per game, nearly an entire goal more than the next team. Their top line of BC transfer Daryl Watts, Sophie Shirley and Abby Roque are the nation’s #1, #2 and #4 leading scorers respectively. They can deliver a punch quickly. Minnesota did an amazing job in November holding all three to just one point each in their win and shootout win over Wisconsin, but the odds of that happening again this weekend are very slim. Wisconsin like Minnesota has scoring depth beyond just the top line. Minnetonka native Presley Norby anchors the Badger’s third line and she has 15 points on the season. The Badgers can score and score in bunches.
One player who has had a slight drop off this season is Wisconsin senior goalie Kristin Campbell. After being otherworldly a year ago Campbell has been more mortal this season with a GAA of 1.76 and a save percentage of .909. The save percentage is particularly concerning as she ranks just 32nd in the nation—compared to a year ago when she was in the top three. Wisconsin can definitely out score teams, but for the first time in a few years it’s the Gophers who have a better defense between the two schools.
As always between two evenly matched squads, special teams can make all the difference. To no surprise given their overall offensive attack, the Badgers lead the nation on the power play scoring a remarkable 36.5% of the time. Minnesota lads behind in 7th in the nation scoring on just 20.6% of their power play opportunities. The Gophers do excel on the penalty kill though. They rank #4 in the nation killing off 91.8% of their penalties including a perfect 9-9 last weekend against Ohio State. Wisconsin is 11th in the nation on the PK at 87.3% kill success.
This series will be tight as usual, and could go a long way to determining the WCHA regular season champion. Minnesota has only lost twice this season, both to #5 Ohio State. Wisconsin has only lost to Bemidji State and Minnesota. With a five point edge for the Gophers, if they can take a majority of the points this weekend they they control their destiny down the stretch of the conference race. But if Wisconsin can take 4 or more fromm the Gophers, it’s the Badgers who control their destiny for the #1 seed. But remember the Badgers had a lead going into the last week of the regular season a year ago before tying Ohio State twice and letting the Gophers pass them to win the banner. Wisconsin fans would say thats ok as they would go on to beat Minnesota in both the WCHA Championship and NCAA Championship games to hang two more banners. It all just adds to the lore and luster of this rivalry and the knowledge that it’s virtually 100% likely that there two teams will meet again at least once more down the road in March.
Friday night’s game faces off at 7:00 PM, while Saturday’s will be an afternoon matinee at 3:00PM. There is no TV coverage of this weekend’s games (of course), but both games can be streamed for a fee on BTN+. Wisconsin streams it’s radio call on I Heart Radio and it can be heard HERE. Minnesota streams its radio call over gophersports.com and it can be heard HERE.