After the cancellation of last week’s series against St. Thomas, the University of Wisconsin Women’s Hockey team (18-1-3, Big Ten) will return to conference play for the first time since Dec. 11. The Badgers will face No. 5 Minnesota (17-6-1) in a rematch of the border battle rivalry this Friday and Saturday.
The Gophers are the only team Wisconsin was unable to beat thus far, losing their first matchup 2–3 followed by a 2–2 tie the next day in a series played in early December.
Minnesota, despite being upset in their last game against Minnesota State (10-11-1), has been red-hot on offense lately. They’ve scored 27 goals in their last four games, including the eight goals they put up in back-to-back games against St. Thomas.
Two senior forwards — Taylor Heise and Abigail Boreen — have been a vital aspect of Minnesota’s scoring surge. Heise collected 10 points in Minnesota’s last four games, bringing her total for the season to a nation-leading 41 points. It’s been Boreen, however, who has contributed the most to her team during this run, scoring seven goals — almost twice the number of goals she had scored in her previous 20 games. Boreen’s season total has now reached 15 goals.
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Minnesota’s offense rivals that of No. 1 Wisconsin. In 24 games, the Gophers have put up 104 goals and 278 points — the highest in the nation behind Ohio State. Wisconsin ranks third with 100 goals and 272 points in 22 games, slightly higher than Minnesota on a per-game basis.
Despite their strong offensive game, Minnesota has lagged behind in their defensive play. They’ve given up almost twice as many goals — 48 — as Wisconsin — 25. Minnesota has a bottom-15 penalty kill percentage in the nation, giving up 12 power-play goals in only 74 attempts.
But the Gophers do sport the third-best save percentage in the WCHA. It was Minnesota’s goaltending, in fact, that propelled them over the Badger’s in their first series.
Lauren Bench was 64/68 on saves against Wisconsin, but she has been inconsistent in her recent play. She allowed three of the first five shots taken against her in Minnesota’s most recent game against Minnesota State, and allowed two goals off only 11 St. Thomas shots in a recent outing.
The Gophers have been able to find success with other players in the net, though. Skylar Vetter is the reigning WCHA freshman of the week after a 29 save, two goals allowed performance against Minnesota State on Jan. 14. She also sports the best save percentage on the team at 0.927%.
Coming in just behind her at 0.924% is junior Makayla Pahl, who relieved Bench after her poor start against the Mavericks and finished the game with 20 of 22 saves. The outcome of this upcoming game will depend on the play of whoever is between the pipes for the Gophers.
It’ll be a true test of strength for the Badgers defense, whose 1.1 goals allowed per game rank second in the nation. Not only will Wisconsin look to cool down Heise and the rest of the Minnesota offense, but they will also be seeking redemption against the only team that has put a stop to this Badgers squad.
The games will be taking place at the Gopher’s Ridder Arena, which interestingly seems to favor the Badgers. Minnesota is 6-4-0 in home games this year, while Wisconsin is 12-0-0 in away games.
The first puck will drop at 6:00 p.m. Friday, with the second leg beginning at 4:00 p.m. the next day.