The defending national champion University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team (14-3-1-0, 12-3-1-0-1 WCHA) have made their way back into the NCAA Tournament for the eighth consecutive year. After an overtime victory last Sunday, the WCHA regular-season and tournament champions begin their chase for back-to-back national titles as the No. 2 overall seed.

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Focus on the Friars

The Badgers are slated to play No. 7 Providence College (12-7-1, 10-6-1 Hockey East). The Friars enter the tournament with a somewhat underwhelming 12-7-1 record. While most disagreed with them getting a bid into the tournament over a perhaps more impressive team like Minnesota, Providence is still a talented team which is a major threat to UW’s hopes of repeating.

Providence is not particularly dominant offensively. The Friars average 2.5 goals per game with a shooting percentage of less than 8% — not great, to say the least.

Their leading goal scorer, Caroline Peterson, has eight tallies on the year. By comparison, Wisconsin has four players with more than eight — including three players in double digits. The Badgers’ leading goal scorer has 17 on the season. While Providence’s offense is nothing to write home about, they share the puck well and spread the scoring around.

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With that being said, Providence is stout on the defensive end. In their 20 games they have given up more than two goals just five times, with three of those games coming against No. 1 Northeastern. Providence plays smart and disciplined and even when they do take a rare penalty, their team penalty kill has been fantastic. Their near-84% success rate on the penalty kill ranks top 20 in the nation.

Most of their success can be attributed to strong goalie play by Sandra Abstreiter, a senior from Germany. While she has not been overly dominant, her consistency has been the key to Providence’s success this season. With a goals against average just above two and a save percentage of .927, her numbers are solid.

Abstreiter’s biggest issue has been Northeastern.

In four games against the Huskies, Abstreiter has given up 17 goals. So far this season, Wisconsin and Northeastern have established themselves as the top two teams in women’s college hockey. Wisconsin is the only team which has proved they are on Northeastern’s level. So if Providence has any chance on Tuesday afternoon, they will need their senior goalie to have a big day.

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Badgers are Back

Unlike Providence, Wisconsin did not need an at-large bid in order to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. They punched their ticket last weekend after edging out Ohio State in the WCHA Tournament. With no tournament last year, Wisconsin heads to Erie as the defending national champions. But they still have a lot left to prove. The goal was not to just win a WCHA regular-season title, or the WCHA Tournament. The goal is to bring national championship No. 6 back to Madison and this is a team more than capable of doing just that.

For starters, the Badgers have the nation’s second-best offense and one of the best defenses in the country. They have the presumptive Patty Kazmaier Award Winner in Daryl Watts and they have gotten fantastic goalie play from Kennedy Blair, who is near the top of every major statistical category for goalies. Wisconsin is as balanced as any team in the nation. They are an offensive juggernaut playing shutdown defense.

While this is a mismatch on paper, Providence will come out fighting to try and prove they belong. In just their second ever NCAA Tournament appearance — and first in 16 years — the Friars now have a chance to take down arguably the biggest blue blood in the sport. This will be a big test for a Badger team that has not looked great over the past two weekends. But when tournament time rolls around, Head Coach Mark Johnson’s club seems to always be ready.