The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team hosts their final regular season home series this weekend when their rivals the Wisconsin Badgers come to town. Minnesota remains in first place in the WCHA standings by two points over Ohio State after a split with the Buckeyes last weekend, and have a nine point edge over the Badgers in third place. This weekend will be key to the WCHA race as Ohio State will end the season next weekend in Madison against the Badgers.
Minnesota will look to get some revenge over Wisconsin who took it to Minnesota when the teams faced off in Madison back in November. Wisconsin took four of six possible points after the teams tied 3-3 on Saturday with the Gophers winning the extra point in the shootout and the Badgers dominated on their way to a 4-1 win on Sunday. Since then the Gophers have gone 14-2 with their only two losses to #1/#2 Yale and Ohio State while the Badgers have gone 10-6 including being swept by UMD and Ohio State. While the Gophers can’t clinch the WCHA this weekend without a boat load of help from St. Thomas, with a sweep they can earn the right to clinch next Friday night against those same Tommies.
It’s another weekend where two of the best offenses in the nation will pair off. The Gophers remain the highest scoring team in the country averaging 4.79 goals per game, but the Badgers are not far behind in3rd place averaging 4.23 goals per game. Minnesota’s Taylor Heise and Grace Zumwinkle remain #2 and #3 in the nation in scoring with 50 and 47 points respectively. Zumwinkle is also 3rd in the nation in goals with 21 with Heise and Abbey Murphy both one back with 20. Wisconsin is led by Casey O’Brien with 36 points. Lacy Eden and Britta Curl each have 16 goals on the season to lead the Badgers.
The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the nation as well. They rank #3 allowing just 1.4 goals per game while Minnesota is 8th allowing 1.72 goals per game. Cami Kronish has been great in goal for the Badgers with a goals against average of just 1.25 and a save percentage of .936. She shut down the Gophers in the series back in Madison allowing just four goals over two games. Minnesota counters with Skyler Vetter who has been good herself. She enters the weekend with a goals against of 1.85 and a .923 save percentage.
Where the Gophers can hopefully take advantage is on special teams. The Gophers have the second best power play in the nation at 29.17 % while the Badgers kill penalties at a rate of 85.71%. Meanwhile Wisconsin only scores 13.85% of the time on the power play. The two teams are fairly even 5x5, but the Gophers should have a major advantage with an extra skater and need to use that in front of a pair of sold out crowds this weekend.
This weekend also may have pairwise implications. Minnesota currently is ranked #3 in the rankings comfortably sitting in a position to earn a first round bye in the NCAA Tournament and a home quarterfinal. Meanwhile the Badgers currently sit in 8th place, comfortably on the right side of the bubble, but still looking at a opening round game on the road. This weekend’s game should shift either team in either direction depending on the results.
Minnesota will celebrate Senior Day Saturday night and will honor a quintet of seniors. Goaltenders Olivia King and Makayla Pahl, defenders Madeline Wethington, and Lizi Norton and forward Grace Zumwinkle will all be honored. The Gophers other 5th year players besides Norton and Zumwinkle all were honored during last season’s senior day festivities.
Both games of the series will be on TV in Minnesota. Friday night’s battle faces off at 6 PM and will air on Bally Sports North Plus. Saturday’s game will face off at 7:30 and will air nationally on Big Ten Network as part of a doubleheader with the Minnesota and Wisconsin men who face off at 5PM.