Separated by 273 miles of hate, Minnesota and Wisconsin have always been bitter rivals in athletics. For most, the biggest game between the two sides is on the football field, where the schools clash for the infamous “Paul Bunyan’s Axe.” While football may draw higher ratings, no Minnesota-Wisconsin sports rivalry is as competitive and as heated as women’s hockey.
Since both teams are in the Western College Hockey Association, Wisconsin and Minnesota face each other four times at the minimum, a two-game home and road series every year. The teams develop familiarity and hatred with each other, adding so much more excitement to the action.
Another great dynamic about the rivalry is the proximity of where the players come from. There are 24 players combined on the Minnesota and Wisconsin rosters that are either from the state of Minnesota or Wisconsin. Playing close to home and in front of family personalizes the matchup and adds even more meaning to the game. With these two being historic programs, the players fantasize about playing in this game. Following an October win last season, sophomore Britta Curl shared her excitement to UWBadgers.com about playing against the Gophers.
“It was unreal,” Curl said. “I grew up wanting to play against the Gophers so just to have it come true and to get the win the second night was really fun.”
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Unlike football and basketball, the rivalry is not overwhelmingly lopsided toward the Badgers’ side. In each of the series, both teams entered ranked in the top three, splitting their four regular-season matchups.
The teams then met twice in postseason play. First squaring off in the WCHA Final in Minneapolis, the teams entered the game ranked as the top two teams in the country.
Wisconsin drew first blood with goals from Caitlin Schneider and Britta Curl, jumping out to a 2–0 lead. Following a Minnesota power-play, the Badgers sealed the deal when senior Annie Pankowski scored an empty-net goal with just over a minute left to play. The teams would then meet again for an astonishing sixth time in an epic, winner-take-all National Championship game.
Ultimately, the Badgers took home the title, beating their rival 2–0. With the teams ranked the top two in 2019, they seem to be on another collision course to take home the nation’s top crown.
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The Badgers have seemingly picked up right where they left off the 2018 season. Outscoring opponents 60–9, Wisconsin has cruised through their competition and holds the nation’s top ranking. The dominance goes further than the goals, and the Badgers have overwhelmingly out-shot opponents 457-146 with 94 more assists. The team has also excelled on the power-play with a .487 conversion rate.
Wisconsin has received contributions from both new and returning players. Boston College transfer Daryl Watts has made an immediate impact, scoring nine goals in her first ten games to go along with 19 assists. Senior Abby Roque has also made a significant impact offensively. Coming off her 43-point season, Roque has started strong, accumulating 23 points on ten goals and 13 assists.
The Badgers also have a security blanket between the pipes. 2019 NCAA Championship’s Most Outstanding Player Kristen Campbell has had another strong year. Campbell has only allowed seven goals in nine games with a .944 save percentage. In the National Championship Game against Minnesota, Campbell shut out the Gophers with 27 saves.
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Minnesota has started strong as well. The Gophers are on a similar dominant tear to their counterparts, starting the season with a 9-1 record, with their only loss coming to The Ohio State University this past weekend. Minnesota sits behind Wisconsin in the polls, ranked second in the nation. Following last year’s championship loss, the Gophers are out for blood in 2019.
Sophomore Taylor Heise has found her form in her second year with the team. After finishing last season third with 35 points, the Red Wing, Minnesota product has taken control of the offense. Heise has done it all, leading the team in points and assists.
With the two teams set to square off Nov. 2 in Minneapolis, this game brings even more hype than usual. Playing for the first time since the National Championship game, Minnesota will try to seek revenge in the rivalry game. The Gophers will also be able to rely on the raucous Ridder Arena in Minneapolis for added support. This matchup could potentially serve as a preview for the 2020 National Championship.
Minnesota and Wisconsin have taken the women’s hockey field by storm over the past two years. With so much on the line every time the teams meet, there is no better rivalry than when the Gophers and Badgers meet on the ice.