The Wisconsin women’s hockey team will try to extend its winning streak to five games this weekend against Minnesota State.
Minnesota State has had a tough season thus far. The Mavericks are just 3-19 in WCHA play and own a 7-21 overall record. They face the difficult task of playing on the road against a Badger team that has only lost two games this season.
UW has been very productive offensively throughout the season, but it struggled last week against Bemidji State’s stout defense. Players had ample opportunities to score but struggled against Bemidji’s talented goaltender. The team still found a way to win both games, but it hopes to have more success against Minnesota State.
“You’re always making adjustments, you’re always fine tuning things,” head coach Mark Johnson said. “Last week, when we played against a team that defends well and has a good goaltender, it’s going to be a challenge to score. Hopefully we can take some lessons we learned last week and translate them to this week.”
The Badgers also went through their weekly preparation of analyzing film of their next opponent. They don’t key in on specific players in their preparation but rather examine their opponent’s strategy in certain situations, like power plays.
The Badgers never overlook an opponent, especially in a tough WCHA conference, but they should not have to make many adjustments this weekend. They dominated Minnesota State when the teams faced off earlier this season in Mankato, when the Badgers outscored the Mavericks 9-1 in the early December series.
Minnesota State’s Kari Lundberg is the leading goal scorer for her team this season with just eight goals. The Mavericks will need plenty of offensive production from her and her teammates against the Badgers. It’s difficult for any team to score on UW goaltender Alex Rigsby, the nation’s leading goaltender with a .949 save percentage, and the task is even more daunting for the Mavericks struggling offense.
Minnesota State will also have to keep a close eye on the Badgers’ forwards. Brianna Decker, Brooke Ammerman and Hilary Knight have all recorded more than 20 goals this season. Carolyne Prevost would probably be the fourth member of that group had she not suffered a knee injury earlier in the season. Decker has played an especially major role in the Badgers’ offense, leading the nation with 28 goals this year.
Minnesota State goalies Ali Altmann and Danielle Butters have been splitting time in goal this season. Altmann has played about three times more than Butters, but the Mavericks will need one of them to slow down the Badgers’ high-scoring offense.
Only three series remain for the Badgers before the playoffs begin in late February, and coaches always want their team to be in top form entering the postseason. Johnson and his players have been stressing this mindset during the final stretch of the season.
“Like coach always says, the second half of the season is more important,” Decker said. “Everybody is fighting for a spot, so we just have to play our best hockey and not worry about who we’re playing.”
Given the team’s winning pedigree, most expect the team to be playing until mid-March and make another appearance in the Frozen Four. Keeping players healthy and well-rested is a top priority for a team that will most likely make a run deep into the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean Johnson will approach games like this weekend any differently.
“We’ll play to win the games here; everybody’s playing for something right now,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s trying to jockey for position. So whether it’s this weekend or next weekend, every game’s got a meaning to it, so you can’t get ahead of yourself.”