The best rivalry in women’s college hockey resumes this weekend as the top-ranked University of Wisconsin Badgers (1–1–0, 1–1–0 Big Ten) head to Minneapolis to take on No. 3 Minnesota (3–1–0, 3–1–0) at Ridder Arena. The Badgers come in off of a series split against Ohio State on opening weekend, while Minnesota returns home after sweeping a legit Minnesota-Duluth team on the road. Here are some thoughts before the 2020 Border Battle.
History of the Border Battle:
With 11 combined national championships, including six out of nine played in the last decade, these two teams are the most storied programs in all of women’s college hockey, and they are also fierce rivals. The Minnesota vs. Wisconsin rivalry is prevalent in all sports, but it is magnified in women’s hockey.
The constant success by both teams makes this one of the best rivalries in all of college sports. Overall, Minnesota leads the series 53–41–12, but as of late, Wisconsin has had the upper hand, going 12–5–3 in the last 20 meetings, including a two-game sweep when the teams matched up last season.
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Both teams are loaded with talent at every position. For Minnesota, Lauren Bench just won Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s Goalkeeper of the Month for November, and junior Grace Zumwinkle won Forward of the Month. The Gophers have had contributions from everywhere through their first two series, as they have 14 different players with at least one point, and nine different players with at least one goal.
For Wisconsin, junior forward Sophie Shirley had two goals and an assist last weekend to propel herself towards WCHA Forward of the Week honors, and junior Nicole LaMantia won Defenseman of the Week in the WCHA after her four-point weekend. This does not include junior Daryl Watts who, by her standards, was relatively quiet last weekend with one goal and two assists.
This has the potential to be a high scoring series as both teams have extremely potent offenses.
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After the first period of the season last Friday, the Badgers found themselves in a 3–1 hole. While this lead was ultimately insurmountable, the last two periods of game one and the last five periods of the entire series were really encouraging from a defensive standpoint.
After the Buckeyes scored with 40 seconds left in the first period of game one, Wisconsin shut them out over about the last 100 minutes of the series.
Over the weekend, senior goalie Kennedy Blair made 61 saves, posting a save percentage of 0.953. The Badgers also blocked 30 shots over the two games, including a team-leading nine blocks by LaMantia. It was ultimately a very encouraging defensive series, even after a rough first 20 minutes.
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While far from a surprise, the Badgers’ top forward line of Watts, Shirley and senior Brette Pettet was awesome last weekend. The three combined for eight points and they were incredibly active on both ends of the ice.
For Minnesota, their top line of Zumwinkle, junior Taylor Heise and freshman Audrey Wethington, has also been extremely impressive through two weekends, as the players have combined for nine total points.
At puck drop Friday night, there will be two of the most explosive offenses in the country on the ice, and we are in for quite the show when either line jumps over the boards.
While goalkeeping is always a big deal, it is amplified in a series like this that has so much offensive skill on both sides. For Minnesota, they turn to Bench, a redshirt senior, while Wisconsin also leans on a redshirt senior in Blair.
Bench, the transfer from Bemidji State, is in her first year with Minnesota. She has been extremely impressive so far, posting a save percentage of 0.960 and a goals against average of just 1.35%. She has started all four games for the Gophers this season, and barring some unforeseen circumstances, will start both games against Wisconsin this weekend.
Like Bench, Blair is also a transfer playing her first year at her respective school. Blair started her career at North Dakota, but when they shut down their program, she transferred to Mercyhurst and played three seasons there. She was terrific over three seasons for the Lakers, but opted to transfer to Wisconsin for her final season of college hockey. Outside of the first period last Friday, she was incredibly impressive last weekend.
This is a matchup to watch — two experienced goalies are in their first big test at their new schools.
The Border Battle is always so much fun. It is a matchup between the two most storied and consistently dominant teams in women’s college hockey. We are in for a treat whenever these teams meet up. This will be a fast-paced, exciting series that showcases some of the best talent that women’s hockey has to offer.