Badgers to test Gophers’ winning streak

Minnesota defeated Wisconsin in last year’s national title game.

Minnesota guard/forward Kayla Hirt shoots a layup against Maine on Nov. 18 at Williams Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard/forward Kayla Hirt shoots a layup against Maine on Nov. 18 at Williams Arena.

Betsy Helfand

Entering this weekend’s border battle with Wisconsin, the Gophers women’s hockey team owns an undefeated record, the nation’s top ranking and the longest-ever Division I winning streak.

But head coach Brad Frost said Minnesota has yet to arrive.

“We’re not that good,” Frost said, with an emphasis on “that.” “And we still have a long way to go.”

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the country.

The Gophers have dominated nearly every opponent they’ve faced en route to a 16-0-0 record, but as Frost noted, they haven’t faced much adversity this season.

They might face some this weekend when the No. 10 Badgers visit Ridder Arena for a rematch of last year’s national championship game.

If not, the Gophers will at least play a team that has the skill level to challenge them.

Minnesota’s closest margin of victory this season has been two goals. The Gophers have outscored opponents 98-10 so far this season.

But they’re not expecting to blow Wisconsin out of the water.

“We’ve had some blowout games recently,” freshman forward Hannah Brandt said. “[I’m] just looking forward to a closely matched game.”

The series, which will be more emotionally charged than a typical series, will present one of the few serious threats to the Gophers’ season.

“I would expect that for a midseason game here, it’s going to be quite intense,” Frost said.

The Gophers and Badgers haven’t played since March 18 when Minnesota won 4-2 to capture its first national championship in seven years. 

“I’m sure they’re thinking about [the national championship game]. I know our kids are going to be talking about it and thinking about it as well,” Frost said.

Dating back to last season, the Gophers have won 24 straight games, an NCAA Division I record.

“I feel like they want to prove something,” goalie Noora Räty said of the Badgers. “They know we’re undefeated this year, and they want to make a statement that they also are one of the best teams in the country.”

Wisconsin started the season 3-3-2 through its first four series, but it has rebounded to win seven of its last eight games.

Junior forward Amanda Kessel, a Madison, Wis., native, said she was a little surprised to see Wisconsin start so slowly.

Frost said he thinks the Badgers’ confidence will be high entering the weekend because of their recent success.

“They’re not giving up many goals, they’re starting to put the puck in the net and they have two of the best players in the country,” Frost said.

Behind goalie Alex Rigsby, the Badgers allow 1.44 goals per game, fourth best in the NCAA.

Minnesota ranks first, allowing 0.62 goals per game.

Frost said Wisconsin’s top forward Brianna Decker was beginning to take over games. Decker won the Patty Kazmaier Award last year, the honor bestowed to the nation’s top player.

Decker is currently fifth in the country in points. Kessel and Brandt are first and second, respectively.

Senior captain Megan Bozek said Decker is “arguably one of the best forwards in the country, if not the world.”

The Badgers are tied for eighth in the country with 3.44 goals per game. The Gophers average 6.12 goals, which ranks them first.

Frost said he thinks the Badgers are the second-best team in the WCHA right now. He said he always views them as a top-two team in the league.

Last season, the Gophers went 3-1-1 against the Badgers. The year before, they went 1-3-1.

“The last few years, we’ve been beating up on each other,” Frost said.

Attendance record

Minnesota is trying to shatter Ridder Arena’s attendance record Saturday.

The current record was set Jan. 6, 2007, when the Gophers drew 3,251 fans.

On Saturday, the Gophers will try to “Rock Ridder” by filling the stadium, which has a capacity of 3,400 seats.

In 2011, Wisconsin set a then-NCAA women’s hockey attendance record with 10,668 fans in the “Fill the Bowl” game against Minnesota.

The Badgers broke that record last year against Bemidji State.

Last year, the Gophers drew about 2,600 fans for each of their two home games against Wisconsin — nearly double the 1,317 they averaged.

“I know everyone gets excited when we get good crowds,” Kessel said. “It’s something that just makes everyone play a little harder.”

Back to a full lineup

—Last weekend, freshmen forwards Maryanne Menefee and Brook Garzone did not play.

Frost said they had violated team rules and were “trying to figure some things out academically.”

He said Tuesday they would find out “a little more this week,” but he expected everyone would be in the lineup this weekend.