Minnesota heads to Madison to face upstart Badgers team

The big sheet of ice at the Kohl Center could play to the speedy Gophers’ advantage.

Bridget Haeg

If Minnesota’s women’s hockey team’s home confines at Ridder Arena is a pond, then this weekend’s series at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center should have the feel of a slightly bigger stage.

Like Lake Superior.

To stay afloat at the Badgers’ Olympic-sized ice sheet, the top-ranked Gophers will have to adjust accordingly, as they take on fourth-ranked Wisconsin (11-3-0, 7-3-0 WCHA) in Madison, Wis., on Saturday and Sunday.

“One of our main goals is just tempo,” freshman defender Anya Miller said. “You’re just that much better of a team if you’re working your butt off.”

This weekend’s series marks the Gophers’ first game this season on a rink of these dimensions. Practices were held at Mariucci Arena this past week in hopes of a smoother adjustment.

The Gophers’ speed, which is arguably one of their best weapons, should be well-suited for the expanded ice sheet.

“Our team likes it, because we are a team built around speed – speed and skill,” assistant coach Brad Frost said. “But it will be different for us.”

But the Gophers (13-0-1, 11-0-1) have proven before that they can win despite the relative unfamiliarity.

Last season, the Gophers notched a low-scoring, two-game sweep against the Badgers in Madison.

“That was a big series for us last year,” sophomore forward Andrea Nichols said. “So it was a big thing for us to pull together and get through all that.”

But the Badgers proved resilient, coming back to split the next series, in overtime, on Minnesota’s home ice.

The two teams kept each other within one goal margins, each posting 2-1 victories.

Minnesota, which comes off two wins in last weekend’s Harvard Shootout, got a preview of its competition last weekend, watching Wisconsin down fifth-ranked Harvard 6-4 in the same tournament.

For Minnesota, the score intimated a little something new about this year’s Badgers squad.

“In the past, they’ve struggled to score goals; they’ve tried to keep games close,” Frost said. “They showed that they can score goals.”

This adds an aura of unpredictability for this weekend’s contest, as Minnesota has outscored opponents 85-14 in 14 games.

Minnesota’s defense, averaging only one goal allowed per game, will be pitted against what the Gophers called one of the top defensive units in the country.

The Badgers defense is averaging 1.4 goals allowed in the same span. Sophomore Christine Dufour, the top goaltender in the nation, posts a .963 save percentage.

“It’s good that we got to see them play, so we know what we’re up against,” Miller said. “But I think we’ll be ready for the challenge.”