Series in Madison a stern test for Gophers

Zach Eisendrath

There will be many things to play for this weekend when Minnesota’s women’s hockey team travels to Madison, Wis., to take on second-ranked Wisconsin.

The fifth-ranked Gophers will be playing for pride and confidence while the Badgers will be looking to clinch the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season championship outright with a two game sweep.

The games will be at the Kohl Center tonight and Saturday. The puck will drop at 7 both nights.

Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said her team will use this series to see if it’s a serious national championship contender.

“It will be good to see where we stack up against them at this point in the season ” knowing that they’re the top team in the league,” Halldorson said.

The Gophers (19-8-1, 14-7-1 WCHA) are coming off their most dramatic series of the year ” two consecutive overtime victories over Minnesota State at home last weekend.

Wisconsin (24-3-1, 19-2-1 WCHA), on the other hand, is coming off a 1-0 loss at St. Cloud State, which snapped its 13-game winning streak.

But Halldorson said the Badgers loss could make them hungrier this weekend.

“I think, if anything, that loss might have motivated them a little bit to comeback strong this weekend.”

Still with a bitter taste in its mouth after losing in the WCHA Championship game 3-2 in overtime last March, Wisconsin would like nothing more than to clinch the conference against their border rivals.

But sophomore Erica McKenzie said the Gophers aren’t worried about things outside their control.

“Obviously we can’t win the regular season now; Wisconsin has that sealed up pretty good right now,” McKenzie said. “We’re just looking for down the road, seeding and things like that. Any win we can get is obviously going to be huge.”

The rivalry between the men’s hockey teams has been well-publicized. But Badgers coach Mark Johnson said the rivalry has made its way onto the women’s hockey side as well.

“Well, I think the players understand it, and certainly the coaches,” Johnson said. “I know when I was on the men’s side and I remember when I was a player, when you came to practice Monday and that weekend you were playing Minnesota the pace was a little bit quicker.

“The intensity was a little bit higher. The focus was a little bit better, just because it’s an atmosphere that’s fun for the players to play in. It’s fun for the coaches,” he said.

McKenzie said she agreed that a rivalry is already at its peak.

“It’s a big rivalry. I think that just makes the game a little more exciting,” McKenzie said. “It’s just kind of a thing where we both know each other and will be gunning for each other.”