Wisconsin’s women’s hockey team (20-1-1) is setting themselves up for yet another deep postseason run. There is no doubt the WCHA presents a set of challenging competitors who the Badgers will have to conquer in order to capture back-to-back national titles.
Despite this fact, their current standing both in the WCHA and the nation bodes well for their prospects at capturing yet another national title.
It is no secret the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota are two of the largest powerhouses in women’s collegiate hockey. In fact, either Wisconsin or Minnesota has appeared in eight of the last nine NCAA national championship games.
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This year is no different. Wisconsin occupies the No. 1 ranking while Minnesota remains firmly in second place in all three national polls for women’s collegiate hockey. Given what has occurred throughout the current regular season, the Wisconsin vs. Minnesota matchups remain a solid proxy for determining who will be a contender for the national title. Even if Wisconsin and Minnesota are not the eventual champions, there is little doubt they will make a run at the Frozen Four in March.
So far this season, the Gophers have gotten the better of Wisconsin. In their first double header matchup of the season, the Badgers lost the first game before tying the second and ultimately losing in a shootout.
Since that loss, the Badgers are undefeated, including a solid series against No. 10 ranked Minnesota-Duluth in which they outscored the Bulldogs 9–5 over two games.
Given the fact that the Gophers and Badgers are the top ranked teams in the nation, it appears useful to compare their performances against common opponents in the regular season to attempt to discern which team has the potential to capture the national title. Make no mistake, this the ultimate goal for both of these teams given their talent level.
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Minnesota’s only loss on the season is the No. 5 The Ohio State University Buckeyes when they faced off against them in Columbus, Ohio. When the Badgers played Ohio State in Columbus, they captured both games in the series with a combined score of 10–3.
Outside of direct competition on Minnesota’s home ice, the games played against Ohio State serve as the best determination of what each of these respective teams are capable of. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin played against Ohio State in Columbus, only one walked away with a win.
Last regular season, the Badgers tied in both of their contests against the Buckeyes and barely managed to capture a game against the Gophers in their first series of the year. With all things considered, their current record bodes well for a solid run into the postseason.
Even with a favorable record, the Badgers retain a solid group of offensive contributors who have dominated the WCHA throughout the season.
When it comes to goals per game, there really is no contest with the Badgers. Wisconsin players currently account for three out of the top six total goal scorers in the nation. Daryl Watts is in first place, Sophie Shirley is in second and Abby Roque is in sixth. The first place goal scorer for the Gophers does not appear until the 10th spot in national rankings.
This individual dominance also manifests itself in total goals scored throughout the season. The Badgers currently lead the nation it total goals scored with 110. While the Gophers may be in second place, they have managed to score just 89 goals throughout their regular season schedule, a difference of 21 total goals.
Given the fact both Minnesota and Wisconsin play a similar schedule with the WCHA, statistical differences between the two teams have the ability to reveal talent differences that could ultimately lead to favorable postseason outcomes for the Badgers.
For example, the Badgers currently rank No. 1 in the nation in aggregate scoring margin. Minnesota is ranked No. 3 in the nation. There is a sizable difference between the two teams that currently sit at the top two positions in the nation when it comes to offensive production and scoring margin. Both of these statistics remain in favor of the Badgers.
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Though Wisconsin failed to capture a game against Minnesota during their series in Minneapolis, their stats against common opponents remain an encouraging sign the Badgers are, if nothing else, a team that can firmly compete with the Gophers’ talent level.
With such competitive programs consistently dominating women’s hockey, it’s always tough to tell who has the best chance to come out on top. Yet, there is little doubt Wisconsin and Minnesota have two of the most talented teams in the nation as things currently stand.
Perhaps one of the best indicators as to who will come out on top in 2020 is the matchup set for January 24th and 25th in Madison between the Badgers and the Gophers. If the Gophers take the series, then there is much to be said about their ability to take down the top team in the nation. If the Badgers capture the series, then the race for the national title remains wide open.