This weekend is crunch time in women’s hockey, as the last regular season games are about to begin. Every game counts that much more with playoffs right around the corner, and the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team may have their work cut out for them as they travel to Minnesota to take on conference rival Minnesota State-Mankato for their last series. While Minnesota State has never given UW much trouble, lately the Mavericks have been on fire – one that could prove hard to extinguish.
Minnesota State (12-19-1, 7-18-1 WCHA), currently ranked seventh in the WCHA, isn’t known for being an intimidating rival and when looking at the Mavericks’ game results from this year it’s easy to see why – until last weekend. Remember the University of North Dakota women’s hockey team? The one that gave Wisconsin trouble this season, beating them at the beginning of January to become UW’s first opponent to rack up more than two goals in a single game? The one that ended No. 1 ranked University of Minnesota’s 62-game winning streak earlier this year? Minnesota State swept the series against them last weekend in North Dakota.
If there’s ever a time that the Mavericks are going to hit the ice full speed, put up a fight and redefine aggression, this next weekend would be it, when Wisconsin comes to town. Head coach Mark Johnson knows it.
“They are healthy now and certainly coming off a big weekend and a sweep in North Dakota,” Johnson said. “It will be senior weekend for them so I am sure there will be a lot of emotions tied to it, they have a large senior class that leads the way. So it will be a good challenge for our team to see how we respond to what happened last week.”
While Minnesota State was experiencing a high point of its season last weekend, Wisconsin had a rather disappointing one, losing both games in the series to the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, one night being senior night and the other in front of a sellout crowd of more than 13,000. But as always, the Badgers are trying to see the positives in the situation.
“This weekend’s results were disappointing, but we have learned a lot from it,” said senior goaltender Alex Rigsby. “We have to capitalize on our opportunities and limit our mistakes to prevent them from getting opportunities to score.”
Wisconsin has not been a team to allow anyone to slow their momentum. When they lost both games to the Gophers earlier this season, they immediately bounced back, winning the next eight consecutive games. Madison Packer, a senior forward, agrees that the best thing to do at this point is shake off the loss and come out harder.
“I mean we obviously wanted to beat the Gophers, but in the grand scheme of things it really didn’t mean anything,” Packer said. “We were behind them by seven points, and beating them twice would have only given us six, so we know it’s rough but we have to learn from it. If there was a good time to lose it was now. We can’t play like that and expect to win games. We are going to learn from our mistakes, watch film, stay positive and ignore some of the negativity.”
Some might say attitudes like Packer’s and Rigsby’s can make for the tougher opponent, as they are likely hungry for a win after being swept in a series. On top of that, the Mavericks haven’t seen a win against UW since the 2009-2010 season, and were outscored 8-1 by the Badgers in the most recent weekend series back in October. When you look at the top scorers on each team, Wisconsin’s Brittany Ammerman is sitting at 38 points, 14 higher than Minnesota State’s Nicole Germaine. And while rumor has it that Minnesota State’s penalty kill and power play have been strong lately, Wisconsin still ranks higher in both categories in the WCHA league statistics.
This series could end up slowing one team’s momentum and boosting the other’s as playoffs begin, something the Badgers are aware of.
“Even though the standings won’t change much, it’s important to get momentum going into the WCHA playoffs next weekend,” Rigsby said. “If we can create some energy and get some girls to score again, that would be huge for our team.”