The Wisconsin women’s hockey team boarded the bus headed to the Minnesota Thursday afternoon with one goal in mind: to end the 51-game win streak of their arch-rival.
The No.1 Gophers (2-0, 0-0 WCHA) have not lost a game in a streak that spans three seasons now, including a perfect 41-0 campaign last season that ended in their second-straight national championship. UM defeated UW in the national championship game the year prior, only adding fuel to the already burning fire.
For freshman defenseman Mellissa Channell, the rivalry is something she looked forward to when coming to Wisconsin from her hometown of Oakville, Ontario. Even though she is entering just her third game as a Badger, she is well aware of what it would mean to take down the Gophers.
“It would be something I would always remember,” Channell said. “Being the first team to ruin their 51-game win streak would not be a huge accomplishment just for me, but for the school and team as well.”
No. 4/5 Wisconsin (2-0, 2-0 WCHA) swept conference foe Minnesota State University, 3-0 and 5-1, while Minnesota skated to 3-1 and 8-3 victories against Colgate University over the weekend.
Come Friday night, the Border Battle will start a fresh chapter as while old and new Badger faces try to write a new history of the rivalry. It will be banner night at Ridder Arena, commemorating the Gophers undefeated season and national championship, and the Badgers would love nothing more than to play spoiler for the evening.
Senior forward Madison Packer will lead the way, setting the tone for the rivalry games, where a faster pace and higher intensity for all sixty minutes is a guarantee. Packer had a strong weekend against MSU, tallying two points off a goal and an assist.
The Gophers will have to play without an essential offensive force, Amanda Kessel, is away for the year representing the United States at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. The All-American was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year and became only the fourth player in NCAA history to reach 100 points in a single season totaling 101. However, Wisconsin is also learning to play without its former star Brianna Decker, who led the team with 55 points (29 goals, 26 assists). The absence of these two starts from the long-held rivalry means it is anyone’s game to take over.
Second-team All-American goaltender Alex Rigsby has been a key asset for the team thus far, and in years past. Rigsby earned WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors Tuesday for her performance against MSU last weekend, highlighted by a shutout Friday night. She will need to be at her best this weekend if the Badgers want to keep an upset on their minds.
“As I mentioned before, we need different people to step up and score, and we were able to do that this weekend. Alex played well in the net both nights [last weekend],” head coach Mark Johnson said at a press conference Monday. “Most nights that she’s in the net, she’ll give us an opportunity to win. She’s been very consistent over the course of her tenure here.”
On the offensive front, redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman has been a force up to already this season despite missing nearly all of last season with issues related to a concussion. She got off to a strong start, scoring three goals in the two games against Minnesota State.
Junior Karley Sylvester, who notched in a goal already this season, is no stranger to the Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry. After experiencing the rivalry as an underclassman, she now feels a sense of responsibility on the ice to educate the younger skaters, especially against the Gophers.
“The first time [against Minnesota] I was really nervous,” Sylvester said. “I tell the freshmen to just have fun out there, don’t worry about the outcome, but to worry about [playing] period-to-period.”
Sylvester is a native of Warroad, Minn., and expects a number of her extended family to be in attendance this weekend. She was recruited by Minnesota and had the opportunity to play there, but insists she made the right decision by coming to Madison.
“I am so happy to put the ‘W’ on as my jersey,” Sylvester said. “I definitely know I picked the right school, I love it here.”
Freshman forward Sarah Nurse is one of the Badger newcomers getting her first taste of the rivalry this weekend. She has already contributed to the scoring effort, recording her first collegiate goal again Minnesota State on Saturday, and is ready to put another one away against her new archenemy.
“It will be fun to join the rivalry,” Nurse said. “There’s a whole bunch of rivalries across the country, but the Wisconsin-Minnesota one is special, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”