In its last home series of the regular season, the Wisconsin women’s hockey team is set to take on Minnesota-Duluth this weekend, with both teams looking to get a leg up in the race for a playoff spot.
Sitting in third place in the WCHA, the No. 8 Badgers (17-9-2, 13-9-2 WCHA) are just two points out of second place behind North Dakota (45 points). Facing off against them is a Bulldog team (14-11-3, 13-10-1 WCHA) that trails UW by three points in the league standings.
While No. 1 Minnesota has run away with the regular season WCHA title, home-ice advantage is still very much up for grabs for the conference tournament, and every win will help either team reach the NCAA tournament come March.
“The nice thing about it, we have control over where we want to go. If you’re successful the next couple of weekends, get yourself in the playoffs, you’re playing well you’re healthy, the opportunities are out there,” head coach Mark Johnson said at his Monday press conference. “As a coach and as a team, that’s all you can ask for.”
Last time on the ice, the Badgers trounced St. Cloud State on the road with 6-0 and 5-1 wins last weekend. Wisconsin found success on its power play throughout the series, putting away four goals — three of which came in game two — with the man-advantage.
After losing three of its previous four game heading into last week, UW needed to get back to the basics, and for Johnson the weekend was important for establishing a base for a playoff run.
“Coming off what I thought was six very good periods up in St. Cloud. I like the way we played. A lot of good things happened within both Friday and Saturday’s game,” Johnson said Monday. “It bodes well because at this time of the year is when you want to be playing your best hockey. We’re going down that path right now.”
However Minnesota-Duluth will be no easy opponent to take down. The Bulldogs find themselves in need of a boost after splitting a series with Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend at home, and being swept by Minnesota the weekend before.
Historically Wisconsin holds a 26-29-10 all-time record against the Bulldogs. Back in mid-October the Bulldogs swept UW and held the Badgers scoreless through both games. However in four months both teams have evolved and with the programs so close in standings, fans will likely see two hard-fought games this weekend.
Emotions will also run high, as the upcoming series marks the last regular season home games Wisconsin’s five senior players will face off in. Forwards Brianna Decker, Alev Kelter and Lauren Unser, along with defensemen Saige Pacholok and Jordan Brickner will be honored at Sunday’s game. For Johnson it is hard to imagine their four years are almost up.
“You look at your senior class and you can remember when they first stepped on campus as freshman and their parents hugged them and letting them go. … That’s certainly an emotional day,” Johnson said Monday. “And you will see the same thing Sunday, when those families come back into town and they watch their daughters step on the ice and play their last regular season games. You think wow, where did those four years go?”
The team will face off Saturday night at 7 p.m. at LaBahn Arena and return to the ice Sunday at 4 p.m. for game two of the series.