It’s not every week that the number one and two teams in the country meet. It is even less often that matchup features two of the oldest rivals in colligate sports.
This weekend the top-ranked Minnesota women’s hockey team will make the trek to Madison to face off against No. 2 Wisconsin.
The series will kick off in LaBahn Arena on Friday at 7:07 p.m. where it will be senior night for the home Badgers. The action will make its way over to the Kohl Center for the rekindling of an old tradition, Fill the Bowl, on Saturday. After taking a year off the tradition in order to promote the Wisconsin women’s new home at the LaBahn Arena, the Badgers will return to the Kohl Center for the first time since the 2011-2012 season.
The competitiveness off the battle will bring out the fans in droves as the 2014 Fill the Bowl event is expected to beat the NCAA Women’s hockey attendance record of 12,402 set in 2012.
“Playing in front of that many fans is amazing, especially for a women’s sport where we don’t have too many experiences quite like that,” senior Madison Packer said. “The atmosphere and energy that starts pumping when you get all those people in the Kohl to cheer us on is pretty incredible.”
The last time the two teams faced off against one another was in early October in Minneapolis. Minnesota brought a NCAA record unbeaten streak into the series and continued it with 2-0 and 2-1 wins over the then fourth-ranked Badgers. Despite being unable to take a point away from Minneapolis, the Badgers played very well in both matchups and took a lot out of the experience.
“I think we played a really competitive series,” junior Brittany Ammerman said a week after the still stinging loss. “We will continue to improve and see them at home later in the year.”
In the first game the Badgers outshot the Gophers 35-23. They came out early in the first period and scored the first goal of the game. However the Gophers quickly responded and put in the game winner with seven minutes to go in the third period. In the second game, the Badgers were able to maintain a 0-0 draw until the Gophers pulled away in the third period with two goals from senior Terry Kelly.
A lot has changed since their first meeting early in the season. Minnesota dropped their first game in more than a year and a half to North Dakota on Nov. 11. In addition, the Badgers have picked up their play and have been ranked second in the country since early November. Wisconsin has lost just one game since their first meeting with the Gophers and will be riding a seven-game unbeaten streak in LaBahn Friday.
“One thing I do know, it will be a very entertaining game,” head coach Mark Johnson said at a press conference early this week. “We haven’t played Minnesota — they were an early opponent in early October and certainly two quality games up in Minneapolis. They’re certainly playing well coming off a sweep this past weekend up in North Dakota.”
The matchup is intriguing to many in the hockey community, as the country’s best offense, in Minnesota, takes on the nation’s top scoring defense. The Badgers are only allowing one goal per game on average this season and have recorded a shutout in each of their last three series. Minnesota, on the other hand, uses their speedy attack to strike opponents quickly and often. The Gophers have scored an astonishing 144 goals this season, an average of 4.8 goals per game, including an impressive 10-0 win over Bemidji State last weekend.
“You look at their offensive numbers, and those are the ones that stick out,” Johnson said. “As I look at film and things, they defend well. They don’t give up a lot of opportunities. So you’re going to have to capitalize on it. You’re going to have to play real good, disciplined hockey.”
The games are sure to be competitive as the two teams take the ice first in the LaBahn Arena and then the Kohl Center. The Badgers will be searching for a case to be considered the number one team in the country by voters while Minnesota will be defending their number one title and an eight-game win streak over their rivals.