The University of Wisconsin will continue the most lopsided series in its history this weekend, when Minnesota State visits Madison for a Saturday-Sunday series. Both games are scheduled to start at 2:05 p.m. The Badgers own an all-time record of 21-0-1 against the Mavericks.
The Badgers (18-7-1, 12-7-1 WCHA) are coming off a pair of tough losses at rival Minnesota that all but eliminated them from the hunt for their first WCHA regular season title. The Badgers, however, still have plenty to play for as they attempt to make a run for the NCAA tournament, which has been expanded from four to eight teams this year. To ensure a postseason birth, Wisconsin must finish the season strong beginning with their series against lowly Minnesota State.
The Mavs, with a record of 18-12-6 and 7-10-3 in conference, are in the middle of the WCHA pack, in fifth place, however, all seven of their conference victories have come against the three teams below them in the standings: St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and North Dakota.
In the first series of the season between Minnesota State and Wisconsin, the Badgers dominated, winning 4-0 and 4-1 in Mankato. Wisconsin, as it has done with many opponents this year, smothered Minnesota State with its defense, allowing the Mavericks to take only 27 shots for the entire series. Senior defenseman Carla MacLeod also chipped in offensively scoring two goals on the weekend, while junior goaltender Meaghan Horras posted one of her three shutouts of the season.
The future could be bright for Minnesota State however, as four of their top six scorers this season are freshmen, including leading scorer Amanda Stohr who has accumulated 16 points this season on eight goals and eight assists. However, a leading scorer with only 16 points is a testament to the woes of the Mavericks offense, which has scored a WCHA-worst 46 goals in 25 games (1.73 per game). In contrast, Wisconsin’s leading scorer, sophomore Sara Bauer, has scored more goals (17) then Stohr has points, and the Wisconsin offense has scored 117 goals in 26 games (4.50 per game).
Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson believes the Badgers will have another advantage with their home ice, which at international size, is much larger than the rink in Mankato that Minnesota State plays on.
“The big thing will be the ability to utilize our speed,” said Johnson. “The rink that they have up there [in Mankato] is even smaller than the one we practice at here [at the Shell], so when we get over to the Kohl Center on a bigger ice sheet, we need to utilize the things we do well, skating fast and having good puck movement. We’re just trying to get better. We just have to try and make another step and become better. We are down to four weekends left in the season and then you get into the playoffs. This is the time you want to be peaking. You want players to be feeling good about ourselves and want to be playing collectively well.”
Johnson says his players are very focused for the series, but that it is in their minds that a trip to the NCAA tournament will probably be in the cards if Wisconsin can avoid stumbling in the season’s final month.
“Last year, we went up to Minnesota as the [No. 4 ranked team] and they were in the second spot nationally. We beat them the first night and then lost the second. They went up to No. 1 and we went down to No. 5 and from there we never got back into the top four from there and we only lost one game. This year, we are in a similar spot, but there are going to be eight teams in the tournament,” said Johnson. “The most important thing is that you want to be playing well at this time of year. It’s fun to get in, but you don’t play just to get it. You play to win the whole thing. Yeah, it’d be a great thing to be a part of the eight teams, but we want to win the stupid thing. We want to get in to win it. That is what we are preparing ourselves for, to get an opportunity to get in there and win it.”