The University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team (18-1-1, 10-1-1 WCHA) is off to another predictably hot start. With little loss in existing talent and the addition of Daryl Watts, the Badgers were primed for yet another successful season as they seek to add to the accomplishments of an already storied program.
The chance at another trip to the national championship looms for the nearly undefeated Badgers at the midpoint of the season. With only one significant fault on the season to the Gophers, the Badgers are currently setting a similar pace to their 2018-2019 campaign that ultimately brought a national title back to Madison.
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Since losing to the Gophers Nov. 2, the Badgers have won eight straight. Prior to their matchup against Minnesota Duluth, they landed the No. 1 ranking in the country after remaining at No. 2 for three weeks. The loss to Minnesota set them back, but a slew of impressive performances allowed the Badgers to reclaim the top spot in the nation.
Wins against ranked teams such as Penn State, The Ohio State University, Bemidji State, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State — including domination over Harvard and Boston College at the Country Classic — put the Badgers in the perfect position to continue their journey towards another run at a national title.
Although this team may be tough to beat, it is not impossible. Their difficulties with No. 2 Minnesota may be a threat to their shot at a back-to-back championship. They will face each other again later in the season in January, and the outcome may determine which team will head to Boston searching for a title.
Last season, the Badgers also fell to the Gophers in their first contest of the season by a score of 0–1. Despite this early setback, it was how the Badgers handled business against the Gophers in the back half of the season that truly mattered. Even after they dropped their last regular-season matchup vs the Gophers, the Badgers went on to defeat them in both the WCHA tournament and the national championship game.
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With Minnesota currently sitting at No. 2 in the nation, the Badgers’ future performances against them will be a perfect metric for whether or not their repeat-championship hopes are legitimate.
Wisconsin’s schedule for the future is loaded with more conference matchups, including rematches with highly ranked conference opponents such as Minnesota, The Ohio State University and Minnesota-Duluth.
The main reason for the Badgers’ rampant success this year has been their overbearing offensive production. In fact, the Badgers are currently performing worse this year defensively than last year, despite their comparatively impressive record.
Goalkeeper Kristen Campbell currently has a save rate of 89%, placing her outside the top 25 goalkeepers in the nation for that statistic and underperforming last year’s rate by 5%. Campbell’s consistently stalwart performances last year, especially down the stretch, helped carry the Badgers to a national title. With her statistics slightly sliding, the results are made manifest in the Badgers’ goals allowed.
In the 2018-2019 season, they allowed an average of exactly one goal per game. Now, nearly halfway through the season, that number has ballooned to 1.6 goals per game. While this may not seem like a large increase, it is notable to remember that the Badgers will consistently shutout a large number of non-competitive opponents throughout the season.
In turn, this means that a majority of this increase in goals allowed per game is a result of goals scored by top-ranked teams — the same teams the Badgers will have to defeat if they are to bring a second straight title to Madison.
With a defense that has slid from the impressive heights of last season, much of the burden has fallen on offensive production to lead the Badgers to their current record. Luckily for them, a number of players have stepped up to the challenge.
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In six of their last seven victories alone, the Badgers have managed to score at least five goals, with Watts scoring at least once in six of those same seven games. Watts is currently leading the Badgers in overall scoring with 18 goals on the season. The junior transfer student and Patty Kazmaier award winner has been a crucial aspect of the Badgers’ repeat success throughout this season.
At this point in the season, Wisconsin leads the country in scoring by almost a goal per game, yet the top line isn’t just where the power is coming from. Watts, Sophie Shirley and Abby Roque have combined to score over half of the Badgers’ goals this season, but a highly impressive 15 others have chipped in at least once.
If they are to come off a strong weekend at LaBahn Arena against Minnesota Duluth, the Badgers can go into their three week break knowing that while they’ve already achieved success this season, there is still more work to be done if they are to acquire a second straight national title.
In order to finish out the season strong and as reigning champs of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the Badgers must prove themselves once again against a tough schedule filled with ranked teams. Once they can prove themselves and come out on top, the Badgers have a shot at becoming national champions once again.