After a 16-game regular season full of dominance and COVID-19 cancellations, the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team (12-3-1-0) has secured the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular-season championship for the eighth time.
With the regular-season championship comes the No. 1 overall seed in the annual WCHA Final Faceoff. This four-team postseason tournament is played annually to determine the conference champion and who gets the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
As the No. 1 seed, the Badgers meet up with No. 4 Minnesota (11-7-1-0). Here are some things to watch for before puck drop Saturday afternoon.
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Two Different Stories
Both teams started out the year red hot. They were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the polls for the majority of the year and it seemed like these two teams were on a crash course set to meet for a national championship. But, that all changed recently as Minnesota and Wisconsin have gone in completely different directions. Prior to their last series of the year against lowly Bemidji State, the Gophers had just one win in eight games.
Minnesota has certainly been struggling and as a team on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, a win over Wisconsin would go a long way toward their postseason resume.
Contrarily, Wisconsin has been rolling. The Badgers have just one loss in their last 10 games and their high-flying offense has been unstoppable in the second half of the season. In those 10 games, Wisconsin is averaging nearly five goals per game, while allowing less than two per game. Simply put, they have been dominant.
Best in the Business
Seven Badgers were named to the All-WCHA teams. Daryl Watts, Sophie Shirley and Grace Bowlby earned a spot on the first team. Nicole Lamantia was named to the second team and Brette Pettet, Britta Curl and Kennedy Blair made the third team. In addition to these seven, Head Coach Mark Johnson was named WCHA Coach of the Year and Daryl Watts was named WCHA Player of the Year.
Watts is also the favorite for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the nation’s best player. She is the best player in the country and it is expected she will win the award at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers are 3-0-1-0 this season against their arch-rival and they have been fairly dominant in all 3 of their wins. Wisconsin has outscored Minnesota 17-8 across their four games, including five goals from Daryl Watts. Wisconsin has dominated the Border Battle as of late, with a 9-3-2 record over the last 14 meetings.
Keys to the Game
- Play ahead:
Last weekend against Minnesota Duluth, Wisconsin gave up the first goal in both games. While Watts and the rest of the offense were eventually able to mount a comeback in the second game, this is not a Wisconsin team built to play from behind. Their ability to suffocate teams defensively is the reason for a majority of their success this year. The Badgers are one of the hardest teams in the country to score against, but in order to take advantage of this, they must score first and get an early lead.
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- Keep the trends going:
Minnesota has been getting shelled and Wisconsin can’t seem to stop scoring. This is a matchup which has — and should continue to — heavily favor Wisconsin and their offensive prowess. It is important for them to be able to jump all over a struggling Gophers defense early and often.
- Stay hot, Kennedy Blair
Wisconsin goalie Kennedy Blair has been one of the best goalies in the nation this year. While the defense in front of her has certainly helped, her individual play has been remarkable. She has taken over quite a few games for Wisconsin this year and she is key to the team’s success. As every hockey fan knows, you do not win playoff games without solid goaltending. There will be no exception to this rule even in this strange season. Blair needs to continue her strong play if Wisconsin wants to have any chance of bringing another big trophy.