The Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team is back in the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time since 2019 and will face a very familiar foe in the Wisconsin Badgers in a semifinal Friday evening. The Gophers and Badgers will face off for the sixth time this season, and will face off for the seventh time in the last eleven NCAA Tournament trips for both teams. The last time these teams faced one another in the NCAA Tournament the Badgers would win their 6th NCAA Championship knocking off the Gophers 2-0 in the 2019 Championship Game. Minnesota would love to do nothing more than end the Badger’s NCAA dreams while trying to keep theirs alive.
Minnesota advanced to the Frozen Four by eliminating one WCHA rival in Minnesota-Duluth 3-0 in a NCAA Quarterfinal last weekend. The Gophers got goals from Madeline Wethington, Abbey Murphy and Catie Skaja in earning a bit of revenge in eliminating the Bulldogs after they did the same to the Gophers in 2022. Murphy comes in on a tear and has now scored in the last nine games for the Gophers and has eleven goals in her past eleven games.
Wisconsin makes the Frozen Four for the 14th time in program history, just one off of the NCAA record of 15 appearances, held by the Gophers. Wisconsin first eliminated Long Island in the NCAA opening round 9-1 before upsetting #3 Colgate 4-2 in a Quarterfinal last Saturday. The Badgers dominated the Raiders outshooting them 35-15 to advance to face the Gophers once again.
These teams have nothing to hide against one another as they face off for the sixth time this season. Wisconsin won the regular season series 2-0-2 taking four points in Madison in November before dominating the Gophers taking five of six points at Ridder Arena in February. The Gophers would battle back and get a slight modicum of revenge in the WCHA Semifinals defeating the Badgers 4-2 en route to winning the WCHA Final face-off Championship.
Both teams will need to do whatever they can to limit the other teams top lines. Minnesota’s top line is anchored by NCAA First Team All-American Taylor Heise along with Abigail Boreen and Catie Skaja. Wisconsin did a good job cancelling out that line in their WCHA Semifinal before Skaja put the game away with an empty net goal late in the third period. It’s the Gophers second and third lines that have been the heroes of this postseason run. The Gophers second line of Second Team All-American Grace Zumwinkle, Ella Huber and Abbey Murphy has played well resulting in Murphy’s goal streak. The third line of Peyton Hemp, Madison Kaiser and Savanah Norcross scored at least one goal in each of the WCHA Tournament games and will once again be needed to outplay their opponents third line and take advantage of the Gophers depth if they want to bring home a title.
Minnesota will need to do a good job shutting down the Badgers top scorers in Casey O’Brien, Jessie Compher, Lacey Eden, and on the blueline Nicole LaMantia and new All-American Caroline Harvey. Both O’Brien and LaMantia scored against Colgate last weekend, LaMantia scored against the Gophers two weekends ago and O’Brien has several great chances but was stopped by Gopher goalie Skyler Vetter. Whichever team can shut down the others most effectively should move on to play for a title.
In goal the matchup will be familiar once again. Vetter will be in net for the Gophers as the sophomore has stepped up her play in the postseason allowing just three goals in her last three games against the top trio of the WCHA—The Buckeyes, Badgers and Bulldogs.
In the Badger net, Cami Kronish has been good as well but has shown cracks against some of the best offensives in the nation. Minnesota has learned how to test her and do what they need to do to get her off her game. They will need to do that once again Friday night in Duluth if they want to be moving on.
While Friday night’s game is about the two current teams, there is no matchup in women’s hockey that has as many ghosts in it’s past than Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is the seventh time since 2012 that these teams have met in the NCAA Tournament. and the ninth time overall in the history of the tournament. Both teams have six NCAA Championships, the most in women’s college hockey history. The Badgers won two of those titles over the Gophers, while Minnesota has won one over the Badgers. In their eight previous NCAA matchups the teams are a perfectly even 4-4. The ghosts of Gophers and Badgers greats from the past litter those boxscores; Wendell, Kessel, Raty, Brant, Potomak, Vetter, Knight, Pankowski, Nurse, Desbiens. Whose spirits can will their current team over the top to try and play for record NCAA title #7.
The first goal will be key to both of these teams. Minnesota has not scored in their last two NCAA Tournament games against the Badgers. There are still seven members of this year’s Gophers team that was on that 2019 roster when the Badgers won the NCAA title over the Gophers. They know how it feels to get this far and then get your skates taken out from under you by your arch rival. There are five Badgers on this year’s roster who were there at 2019. They know what it’s like to knock off your main rival to get to the mountain top.
The last time the Frozen Four was in Duluth in 2012 a senior led Minnesota team with some really talented young players rode a star goalie to a NCAA Championship victory over their arch rival and earned Brad Frost his first NCAA title as the Gophers head coach. In 2023 a senior led Minnesota team with some really talented young players will hopefully ride a star goalie knocking off a pair of teams on the way and earn Brad Frost his fifth NCAA Championship.
HOW TO WATCH: NCAA FROZEN FOUR
Semifinal #1: #5 Northeastern Huskies vs #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Semifinal #2: #6 Wisconsin Badgers vs #2 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Where: Amsoil Arena, Duluth, MN
When: NE/OSU @ 2:30; WI/MN @ 6PM
Live Audio: Gophersports.com