One of the biggest themes this year for the Wisconsin women’s hockey team has been playing down, or up to, the level of its competition.
That theme could continue as the No. 6 Badgers take to the road this weekend to face Minnesota State in what will be the last series before about a half-month hiatus.
Wisconsin (10-5-3, 7-4-1) currently sits at third place in the WCHA standings, three points behind Minnesota-Duluth, and five behind Minnesota. Minnesota State (4-6-4, 2-6-4), meanwhile, rests at seventh place, second-to-last in the WCHA.
While it may be easy to perceive the Mavericks as a weak threat, Wisconsin interim head coach Tracey DeKeyser knows better than to assume too little, as her unit has experienced several frustrating results to “inferior” teams already this year.
“I don’t expect them to be weak because there’s about five points that separate five teams in our league,” said DeKeyser. “There’s great parity this year. We expect every game, whether it’s the first place team or the last place team in the league, to be difficult to battle. We have to go in there with that mindset and not worry about rankings.”
Out of seven series this season, the Badgers’ only sweep has come against No. 2 Minnesota. Last weekend, the Badgers again upped their play to pull out a win and a draw against No. 4 Minnesota-Duluth.
Even the Mavericks have shown a tendency to play up to their opponents, boasting a victory over Minnesota-Duluth and a tie against Minnesota.
Wisconsin does, however, have a history of dominating Minnesota State. In 39 games, the Badgers have never lost, posting an impressive 37-0-2 record.
Rankings and results aside, Wisconsin hopes to close the first half of the season with a spotless series against MSU.
“If we win both games we’ll be second in the league so that’s definitely a goal in the back of our mind,” senior forward Jasmine Giles said. “It’d be great. I mean, we’ve had a rough start but to come out in second in the league would be something that we’d be proud of.”
Struggles with scoring have led to much of Wisconsin’s frustrations this year.
Entering the series against Minnesota-Duluth, the Badgers had converted just five of 74 power plays into goals. Also, despite their disappointing results, the Badgers have outshot their opponents in all but one game this season.
One area in which Wisconsin did see improvement was in the power play against Duluth, going 2-for-8 in that regard. Sophomore forward Brooke Ammerman, who leads the team and is tied for third in the nation in goals knows there is still more room for improving their scoring ability.
“I think we’re going to get a ton of shots. We need to crash the net more and get past that three goals that we can’t seem to get past this year,” Ammerman said. “Coach is really stressing being strong in front of the net, battling and just bearing down and hit our spots.”
The Badgers have never scored fewer than three goals against the Mavericks and have never allowed more than three. Minnesota State does not boast the largest scoring or defensive threat in forward Emmi Leinonen and goaltender Alli Altman. Leinonen leads the team with seven goals while Altman averages nearly three goals allowed per game.
Regardless of past results, DeKeyser is preparing her team for a hard-fought affair in Mankato before taking a break for finals and the holidays.
“They’re going to work hard,” DeKeyser said. “It’s going to be a small rink with a lot of 50/50 battles. It’s going to a bounce here, a bounce there and the team that is most consistent and doesn’t give up and works for 60 minutes will probably be the leader at the end of the game.”