The #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey team will take their quest to stay undefeated on the season into Madison, Wisconsin this weekend for the first round of the annual Border Battle against the Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams will have their players who they were missing with the US and Canadian World Junior teams back in the lineup and it should be a classic battle between the current top two teams in the Big Ten standings.
Minnesota comes into this weekend’s series on a bit of a short week after sweeping Arizona State on Sunday and Monday. The Gophers cruised to a 4-1 win on Sunday behind Jack LaFontaine’s ninth win on the season. Monday’s battle was a bit tougher, but the Gophers got the job done and got Jared Moe his first win on the season in a 6-4 game. Meanwhile, the Badgers will be taking the ice for the first time in over a month this weekend and Minnesota will look to try and catch them a bit flatfooted out of the gate like Arizona State did to Minnesota a week ago.
The Gophers are the highest scoring team in the Big Ten and that should only improve with all three of their top defensemen, Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe and Brock Faber back from the World Junior Championship. All three have seen time on the Gophers power play and penalty kill lineups and makes the Gophers an even more potent team.
Wisconsin will get back the services of their top two scorers in Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway. Caufield was a top-15 NHL draft pick a season ago and was the Big Ten Rookie of the Year as he lead the conference in scoring. Holloway was the #14 pick in this year’s NHL draft and was one of the stars of the Canadian world Junior team. Together they are the best two scorers that Minnesota will have seen this far this season. The Badgers will have their complete roster for the first time this season after missing payers to injuries and COVID concerns. Whether they can find the chemistry to click for the first time against the toughest opponent that they have faced will be the question of the weekend.
Jack LaFontaine will be back in net for the Gophers after his first game off last Monday. The senior leads the nation with a 1.00 goals against average, a .965 save percentage and nine wins. He has been nearly flawless for the Gophers this season and will try and help Minnesota continue to find success in Madison where they are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games.
Wisconsin has had improved goaltending this season as well, as they have followed the lead of their women’s program and grabbed a transfer. Former Michigan Tech goalie Robbie Beydoun has been the #1 goalie for the Badgers this season starting all but one game. He has a 4-4 record on the season and is allowing 3.42 goals per game with a .905 save percentage. Minnesota’s goal will be to pepper Beydoun with shots and try and find the juicy rebounds in front. Getting ahead early and maintaining that lead has been the key to the Gophers success in Madison over the last six seasons, and it should be no different this weekend.
One thing that will look different from previous seasons is that Wisconsin is playing home games this year in LaBahn Arena, the home of the Badger women’s team, not the Kohl Center. LaBahn is an NHL sized rink at 200x85 just like Ridder Arena is, not the 200x97 that the Kohl Center is. The reason the Badgers are playing there is that Wisconsin does not want to deal with switching over the hockey rink to the basketball court repeatedly, which makes sense. But it also takes away one of the only other larger rinks besides Mariucci in the conference.
If Minnesota can take care of business and shut down Caufield and Holloway, there is no reason to think Minnesota’s hot start can’t continue and the imaginary sounds of the Battle Hymn and Better Dead Than Red can ring through LaBahn Arena like they have through the Kohl Center often over the last few years.
HOW TO WATCH:
#1 Minnesota Golden Gophers @ #12 Wisconsin Badgers
Where: LaBahn Arena, Madison, Wisconsin
When: 4 PM Saturday/Sunday
TV: Fox Sports North/Fox Sports Wisconsin
Radio 1130 AM/103,5 FM/ I Heart Radio