The UW women’s hockey team will travel to Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, ND, this weekend to compete in the 2003 WCHA Women’s Final Five, to be held March 6-8.
UW senior Kerry Weiland and the third-seeded Badgers will square off against the second-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in the tournament’s opening round at 4:05 p.m. Friday. The matchup will mark the third-consecutive time the Badgers have faced the Gophers, as they closed their regular season with a pair of games in Minnesota last weekend.
Wisconsin managed to upend their No. 3 ranked border rival Friday, extending their school-record winning streak to nine games, but would fall to Minnesota Saturday, 0-2.
UW head coach Mark Johnson, who has compiled an overall record of 21-7-5 in his first year at the helm, was pleased with his team’s effort this past weekend and foresees his team playing well Friday.
“I like the way we played both nights. I thought we played real well Saturday night and just did not get rewarded for our efforts. If you look at the three games, it is not the rubber match. The game is very meaningful to us,” Johnson said. “I would anticipate Friday afternoon’s game is going to be a game in which, if our players want to win, you are going to see some desperation in their eyes. I hope the intensity is high.”
Rounding out the five-team field in this weekend’s tournament will be the WCHA regular season champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, the third-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes and the Bemidji State Beavers, who will enter play as the tournament’s fifth seed.
Ohio State and Bemidji State will square off in the tournament’s opening round, while the No. 1 seeded Bulldogs, who finished the regular season as the No. 2 ranked team in the country, will receive a first round bye.
Minnesota-Duluth has won each of the last two national championships and will be looking to win this weekend’s conference tournament to carry some momentum into the national tournament, which begins March 21.
The winner of the Wisconsin/Minnesota matchup could give the Bulldogs a run for their money, as both teams have already beaten the Bulldogs once this season.
UW will first focus on trying to get past the Gophers and their star goaltender, Jody Horak.
Horak, who tallied a 14-2-2 win-loss-tie record in her rookie campaign, finished the regular season with a .947 save percentage, which was second best in the nation.
The Blain, Minnesota native was named to the All-WCHA First Team and was selected as the WCHA Rookie of the Week twice.
With Horak in front of the net and UM’s freshman phenom, Natalie Darwitz, zipping around the ice, Wisconsin will have their hands full Friday.
The Badgers have proven their ability to hang tough with their favored counterparts and will look to avenge their loss Saturday when they open up postseason play in North Dakota this weekend.
“It is going to be a great tournament. Any time we have played Minnesota this year, the four games, they have all been close. One was 3-1, a couple have been 2-1 and one was 2-0. It is going to be a dogfight,” Coach Johnson said. “I just hope we come out with the same effort that we came out with last weekend. If we do, we can leave the rink being proud of that. We will see what happens.”