The Wisconsin women’s hockey team (15-4-3, 11-4-1) will look to continue its winning ways as it hosts Minnesota State (13-7-3, 6-5-3) in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers are coming off of a sweep of St. Cloud State this past weekend and are riding a seven game unbeaten streak, while Minnesota State is coming off of a split with WCHA-leading Minnesota.
Despite sitting at fifth in the WCHA, Minnesota State has proven to be a dangerous team, already sporting wins over then top ranked Minnesota and a series sweep of then No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth. The wins show that Minnesota State’s program is on the rise. The wins against the Gophers and Bulldogs marked the first time in Mavericks history that they had defeated either team. Wisconsin and Ohio St. are the only other WCHA teams that Minnesota State has yet to defeat, as the Mavericks come into this weekend’s series with a 0-17-1 record against the Badgers.
Earlier in the season the Badgers and Mavericks locked horns on Minnesota State’s home ice where Wisconsin swept the series with a 3-0 shutout and a thrilling 4-3 victory. In the two wins, Wisconsin finally saw its offense get a little momentum going against a strong Minnesota State defense. The Badgers learned that the Mavericks certainly possess the ability to beat anyone, and were fortunate to escape with a pair of wins.
Minnesota State defense is led by one of the top goaltenders in the nation in Shari Vogt. A three time national Defensive Player of the Week award winner, Vogt leads the WCHA in save percentage at .940. Much of the Maverick’s success can be directly attributed to her stellar play in between the pipes.
Offensively the Mavericks rely on junior Melanie Salatino who leads the team with 15 goals. The mark is just three off the school’s all-time record of 18. Salatino has already notched one goal against the Badgers when she brought the Mavericks within 4-3 late in the third period of the Badgers’ 4-3 victory earlier in the season.
Minnesota State also is led by sophomore Devon Nichols who leads the team with 19 assists and 27 points. Like Salatino, Nichols is within striking distance of the single season record in both categories. The Badgers will have to keep her playmaking to a minimum to have the best chance at winning the games.
The Badgers will be missing three key players when they take the ice this weekend. Freshmen Bobbi-Jo Slusar and Meaghan Mikkelson along with junior Jackie Friesen will be traveling to Germany to represent the Canadian Under-22 squad in the European Air Canada Cup. Fortunately for Mark Johnson and the Badgers, they have the depth to overcome players missing time due to national team commitments. If the past is any predictor, Wisconsin should get an excellent effort from whoever is asked to step in for the missing players.
The Badgers will need to find a way to beat Mavericks goaltender Vogt if they are to maintain their current unbeaten streak. While losing three of their keys players will not help, the strong play of freshmen Sara Bauer and Lindsay Macy should help to offset the losses. Bauer, who has taken over the team’s point lead from senior Meghan Hunter, earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors with a two goal, three assist performance against St. Cloud State. Macy also showed signs of developing into a fine offensive threat by notching two goals and two assists in the same weekend.
Even with the strong play from the younger players, Wisconsin will look to senior leaders like Hunter and Steph Millar to keep producing clutch goals when the team needs them most. Though none of the Badgers can claim gaudy offensive numbers, it seems every time a big goal is required, it is one of the teams’ senior captains who finds a way to get it done. Being these games are as big as any, expect Hunter and Millar to make an important contribution.
While the Mavericks are for all intents and purposes eliminated from contention this season, a win or two against an elite opponent like the Badgers can help the program’s development into one of the nation’s top teams. Wisconsin, meanwhile, simply needs wins to maintain its slim grip on the fourth spot in the national polls and stay within striking distance of WCHA leaders Minnesota. With a showdown with the Gophers coming next weekend, the Badgers can not afford to let the Mavericks slip away with a win this weekend.