The top-ranked and undefeated Wisconsin women’s hockey team will host St. Cloud State this weekend in WCHA action. The Badgers have been nearly perfect so far this season, and a pair of wins over a formidable Huskies squad would cap off a very successful first half of the season.
St. Cloud comes to the Kohl Center as surprising owners of third place in the WCHA. This series provides the Huskies with an opportunity to prove they are as good as their record indicates.
The Huskies come into the series with 9-5-2 record and are currently enjoying a five-game winning streak that includes convincing wins over Ohio State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State. A sweep over defending national champion Minnesota- Duluth in October put St. Cloud on the map as contenders this year.
UW head coach Mark Johnson expects the Huskies to come after Wisconsin with relentless intensity. Johnson noted because St. Cloud sees this series as an opportunity to legitimatize their program, and because the No.1 Badgers inevitably receive everyone’s best efforts because of their top-ranking, it will be a battle.
“As with most teams that play against us these days, they are going to give us their best,” Johnson said. “So, I anticipate that they will come out and play with some energy and some excitement and try to knock us off. “
The pressures of being No. 1 are nothing new to the Badgers, as they have maintained the top spot since early October. As evidenced by the Badgers’ current 18-game winning streak, Johnson remains positive that his team can handle the spotlight.
“I think the players know whoever we play is going to be all fired up,” he said. “They are going to play their best hockey against us. We just have to meet them as far as intensity goes.”
The Huskies, who are notorious for their up-tempo style and suffocating forechecks, are just the type of team that can knock off his top-ranked Badgers if they are complacent, according to Johnson.
“[Saint Cloud] tries to play a real high-tempo game, and create a lot of turnovers. They attack, and have a good power-play,” he said. “They are capable of knocking off anybody in the country. They beat [Minnesota]-Duluth earlier this year twice, so if you’re going to play against them and be successful, you’re going have to play good hockey. “
Senior captain Erica Lawler, who has played three years worth of close games against the Huskies, noted that whether St. Cloud is in first place in the WCHA or last place, they always compete.
“St. Cloud is always strong. They always put up a good fight. They are always solid,” Lawler said. “It is definitely not a weekend to take lightly. It’s just a matter of going to the rink, and doing your best.”
Unlike the extremely deep Badgers, the Huskies rely heavily on their top line for offensive production. That line, consisting of Megan McCarthy, Caitlin Hogan and Holly Roberts is one of the most productive groups in the WCHA. The trio has accounted for an astounding 40.7 percent of the Huskies’ offensive production.
“They are a very offensive hockey team, they are much stronger offensively than defensively,” Lawler said. “They have a few very good forwards. Roberts is someone you always keep an eye on, as is as McCarthy and probably Hogan.”
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the Badgers not only the lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing a miniscule 0.94 goals a game, but they also are tops in scoring offense with an average of 5.17 goals per contest.