Minnesota gets chance No. 2 against another No. 1

Nick Heronimus

Each week, the WCHA presents its challenges, but this weekend will see one of the biggest challenges to date for the Minnesota women’s hockey team this season.

The Gophers, coming off a series sweep of previously No. 1 ranked Minnesota-Duluth, will face No. 1 Wisconsin with both games scheduled to be played at 2:00 in the Kohl Center on Friday and Saturday.

The task of back-to-back weekends against No. 1 ranked teams is one that head coach Brad Frost enjoys, but one that still will require the Gophers to take care of their own business first and worry about what their opponents do second.

“It doesn’t matter who our opponent is,” Frost said. “We need to prepare the same and come out and play the same.”

Last weekend the Badgers swept Minnesota State by matching 4-2 scores. Those wins helped to return Wisconsin to the top of the polls which is a position they have grown accustomed to.

The Badgers have won the last two NCAA women’s ice hockey championships, and have established themselves as the team to beat for this season.

In the last meeting between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Badgers ended the Gophers season by beating them in the WCHA championship.

But this time around, Minnesota is a team playing with momentum, after last weekend’s decisive victories over UMD.

“It was very encouraging last weekend how we played,” junior defender Dagney Willey said. “We really came together as a team and played some of our best hockey since I’ve been here.”

To keep their momentum, the plan is simple for the Gophers. Minnesota needs to continue to play at their best and not return to their early season habit of up and down performances.

If they do this and continue to improve every day the results will take care of themselves, Frost said.

Wisconsin will provide very stiff competition for the Gophers.

They have four talented lines and are probably the deepest team in the country at forward, Frost said.

Key members of the skilled set of forwards the Badgers have are senior forward Jinelle Zaugg and freshman forward Hilary Knight.

Zaugg and Knight are tied with the Gophers’ Erica McKenzie for the WCHA lead in scoring with 14 points.

Minnesota tweaked their penalty kill slightly to adjust to handling Wisconsin’s power-play lead by their talented forwards, junior defender Rachael Drazan said.

Combining with the talented forwards, the Badgers boast one of the top goaltenders in the country in junior goaltender Jessie Vetter.

Vetter is the U.S. under-22 National team’s goalie and has a record this season of 7-1-1. In those games, she has allowed only nine goals.

With a prime opportunity to further move themselves up the WCHA standings against the conference’s top team, the Gophers see it as any other weekend series.

“A game is a game to us,” Drazan said. “Right now our focus is just on winning and playing good hockey.”