It’s a huge weekend for hockey in Minneapolis as we have a dueling Border Battle faceoffs on the U of M campus this weekend. The #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s team will host the #11/12 ranked Badger men’s team for a Big Ten pair at 3M Arena at Mariucci while the #2 ranked Gopher women’s team will host #1 Wisconsin in a huge WCHA matchup.
To discuss this big hockey weekend we decided to get a bit more insight into the Badgers from Drew Hamm of Bucky’s 5th Quarter. He also asked his own set of questions about the Gophers which we answered over on their blog.
TDG: The Badger men appear to be finally living up to the expectations that many in the conference had when Wisconsin hired Tony Granato. Why did it take so long to get things turned around, and do you think they have plateaued a bit or can they even be better over the next season or two?
B5Q: When Cole Caufield announced that he was coming back for his sophomore year, expectations were pretty high heading into the season, but there was also an air of “prove it” because expectations had been high in previous years and the Badgers haven’t made the NCAA Tournament nor won anything of substance in Granato’s four-year career. Recruiting has never been a problem at Wisconsin and even though the on-ice performance hasn’t been great, good players still wanted to come to Madison. What the problem may be is that player development once they arrive in Madison hasn’t been as good as hoped. However, this season something has changed and a number of players are having career years. I think the Badgers are always a threat to return to national title contention, but if this year is just a one-off a change may need to be made behind the bench to get them there.
TDG: The Badgers have gone 6-2 in their last eight games since finally getting their entire roster on the ice together whether it be due to COVID, injury, or the World Juniors. Even the goaltending has been better since everyone returned. It is just confidence that is propelling this team forward, or did they really find something that is clicking once they got everyone back?
B5Q: It seems to be that everyone is now in the right place on the line chart and fills their role and the results are speaking for themselves. Missing Dylan Holloway for as long as they did due to Canada’s Junior Team training camp and then he and Caufield being in the actual tournament was tough for the Badgers. With the COVID restrictions Wisconsin wasn’t playing with a full four lines and had two defensemen filling in as forwards and the results against Arizona State speak for themselves too (losses 8-5 and 3-1). With everyone playing well in front of the net it’s only natural for the goalie to look better too. This series will be a real measuring stick ne for the Badgers to see if they’ve “arrived” or if there is still work to do.
TDG: Robbie Beydoun has shown flashes of brilliance (his win over the Gophers), and has looked lost at times. Freshman Cameron Rowe is 5-1 on the season but has mostly played against the weaker conference foes and Arizona State when he had had success. Do you think Granato trusts him to play in a big game and will we see him in one of the games this weekend?
B5Q: I would love to see Rowe get a start this weekend, but unless Beydoun gets shelled in the first game I don’t think we see Rowe outside of backup duty.
TDG: Predictions on the men’s series?
B5Q: Badgers win 4-2 on Friday and Gophers win 6-2 on Saturday.
TDG: The Badger women’s team jumped all over Minnesota in their series in Madison a few weeks back. This team seems to have zero fear of the Gophers over the past few seasons—unlike if we look back 5-7 seasons or so. Do you attribute that to the current group of players, or has it just been a complete attitude change from top to bottom in the program?
B5Q: These two games will be the No. 13 and No. 14 times in a row that one of Wisconsin or Minnesota is ranked No. 1 and I think that this is just the Badgers being on a run over the Gophers and it’ll change again in two or three seasons. While the Badgers are extremely talented, the Gophers are no slouch and are just catching the short end of the rivalry currently. The attitude in the UW program is always to beat Minnesota, and the plan has just been working well recently.
TDG: Wisconsin has used the transfer portal to their extreme benefit in the recent past. Daryl Watts is the best offensive talent in the conference, and now Lacy Eden looks like she may have legitimate claims to the WCHA Rookie of the Year Award and she just showed up in January? The Badgers also went out and got a transfer goalie who stepped in right away this season. What has changed in Mark Johnson’s philosophy to make this team so attractive to transfers?
B5Q: Honestly, there just seems to have been some fortuitous chances for the Badgers here. Eden started her freshman year at Princeton, but then the Ivy League canceled the season due to COVID-19, so she was looking for another place to play. Both of her linemates from Shattuck-St. Mary’s (ever heard of it?) are also freshmen for the Badgers and Wisconsin needed a little scoring jolt at the time, which she has provided, so the stars were perfectly aligned for her arrival. Goalie Kennedy Blair started her career at North Dakota, transferred to Mercyhurst, and is now finishing her career in Madison where she took the starting goalie job from recently graduated Kristen Campbell who...was her teammate at North Dakota. Some more good luck for the Badgers. As far as Daryl Watts goes, she was more of a classic recruiting win for a transfer player. She had originally wanted to stay close to her hometown of Toronto, which is why Boston College was a good choice for her to start, but even after winning the Patty Kaz her freshman year she wanted something different than what BC was offering. Wisconsin gave her a chance at a national title and Mark Johnson needed to reload his offense after losing Annie Pankowski and Emily Clark so it was a perfect fit. I really don’t think Johnson made a concerted effort to mine the transfer portal but when good fits appeared he wasn’t above accepting transfers like some coaches might.
TDG: The Badgers were the clear favorite to win the NCAA title last season before it was cancelled. I think anyone could make a reasonable assumption they are the favorite to win this season. Do you think the fact that the Badgers already had a COVID stoppage back in December might be a psychological advantage over some of the other teams (i.e. Minnesota) as we head down the stretch to help them keep focus to complete the goal?
B5Q: Potentially, but the looming threat of COVID-19 is always there and can always derail the season at any moment. Having already had to deal with a shutdown maybe the Badgers have a slight advantage in that they know games can be taken away from them and they need to play hard for every minute they’re on the ice, but I think they, and Minnesota, already thought that.
TDG: Women’s Prediction?
B5Q: Badgers win Friday night 4-1 and Minnesota wins in OT 5-4 on Saturday.
The men’s series will face off at 7PM both Friday and Saturday and air on FSN+. The women’s series will face off at 6 PM Friday and 4 PM Saturday and both games will stream on BTN+.