The No.1 Wisconsin Badgers (8-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) will host their biggest rival, the No. 3 Minnesota Gophers (6-1-1, 4-1-1-0 WCHA), at LaBahn Arena this weekend in an early-season clash of two marquee programs. It’s the highest-ranked matchup in the NCAA so far this season.
Historically, Minnesota has commanded the Border Battle rivalry. The Gophers boast a 50-35-11 record against Wisconsin dating back to 1998 when the rivalry was first installed. However, Wisconsin has been in the driver’s seat recently — the Badgers head into this weekend having taken five of their last six games against Minnesota, including a series sweep of the Gophers at LaBahn Arena last season.
The last time these teams faced off, it was all Badgers. En route to last season’s Frozen Four, Wisconsin dominated the Gophers 4–0 in the NCAA quarterfinals, redeeming itself from a 3–1 loss to their rivals in the WCHA title game.
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Wisconsin is fresh off a dominant showcase against Princeton Sunday. Freshman Sophie Shirley tallied four points and two game-winning goals in the Badgers’ sweep of the Tigers, earning WCHA Rookie of the Week and NCAA Third Star of the Week honors. The Badger scoring attack has been formidable in each of their eight games. Their .286 power-play percentage ranks third in the nation, thanks in large part to stellar play from both Shirley and NCAA points-leader Abby Roque. In addition to Roque and Shirley, the Badgers’ Sam Cogan and Annie Pankowski are both among the nation’s top 15 scorers.
The No. 3 Gophers head to Madison having split their series with the Ohio State (6-2-0, 3-1-0-0 WCHA) last weekend, and bring with them one of the nation’s most balanced offenses. Six different players have now scored game-winning goals for Minnesota, and 19 different Gophers have registered at least one point. They rank fourth in the nation through eight games with 3.88 goals per game, led by senior Nicole Schammel, whose 11 points rank third in the nation so far.
Wisconsin cannot overlook the early-season contributions of Minnesota’s younger players. Four Gopher rookies have notched their first career goals already this season, and each of their seven rookies has seen significant time on the ice. Depth will play an important role in both games this weekend, particularly following the Badgers struggles against Princeton’s offense last Friday. Look for the Gophers to sustain pressure on Wisconsin’s back-line early and often.
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It’s safe to assume the Gophers have not forgotten how the Badgers ended their season last year, so there may be an added dose of motivation for the visiting team.
Puck drops Saturday and Sunday are set for 2 p.m. from LaBahn Arena.