Gophers focused inward as they prepare to visit No. 1 Wisconsin

Forget the Badgers’ formidable offense; Minnesota isn’t flinching.

by Nate Gotlieb

The Gophers are faced with the arduous task of snapping the 12-game unbeaten streak of top-ranked Wisconsin this weekend, and thereâÄôs one thing head coach Brad Frost wants his team to focus on.

The BadgersâÄô high powered offense, which averages over five goals per game?


How about the BadgersâÄô duo of 2010 U.S. Olympians, Hilary Knight and Meghan Duggan, who are tied for the WCHA points lead?

Wrong again.

It would be easy to hem and haw over WisconsinâÄôs formidable offense, but Frost is keeping his teamâÄôs attention turned inward.

âÄúAs good as Wisconsin is, we want to continue to focus on ourselves and our play,âÄù he said.

That formula has proved successful during the second half of this season. The Gophers have won 12 of their last 14 games since facing Wisconsin in early November, and theyâÄôve compiled a nine-game winning streak since Dec. 4.

The streak has given Minnesota a new level of confidence heading into this challenge, junior Sarah Erickson said.

âÄúThe beginning of the year was a little adversity for us, losing quite a few games,âÄù Erickson said. âÄúWe went through that adversity early, and now we know how to battle back in games when weâÄôre down, and we know how to finish the games off. Our confidence is higher than itâÄôs been all season.âÄù

The Gophers will need all of that confidence against a BadgersâÄô team that has been outmuscling and outscoring opponents all season. WisconsinâÄôs average margin of victory in its 23 wins this season is north of four goals. The Badgers have recorded six goals in a game 14 times this season and have scored 54 more goals than the nearest WCHA team.

Wisconsin is especially tough to beat on home ice, as the Gophers experienced last season.

With head coach Mark Johnson taking a year-long sabbatical to coach the U.S. Olympic team, and with Knight and Duggan both redshirting to play in the Olympics, the Badgers were on their way to a middle-of-the-road season.

The Gophers, hoping to take advantage of a rare opportunity to sweep Wisconsin, were 8-0 and ranked No. 2 at the time of their visit, coming off a recent sweep of their other nemesis, Minnesota-Duluth.

It didnâÄôt matter as Wisconsin handed the Gophers a pair of losses on the weekend, continuing its trend of home dominance over the Gophers.

The trip isnâÄôt to a foreign environment for every Minnesota skater, however.

For the GophersâÄô points leader, freshman Amanda Kessel, this is simply a return home, her first series in her native Madison since high school.

Kessel, who has the ability to create scoring chances in crowded areas, was injured in the first period of the first game of the first Wisconsin series.

This series, a fully healthy Kessel should play a big role, Frost said.

âÄúSheâÄôs dynamic, and she helps Erickson and [Jen] Schoullis [her linemates] play better and be better,âÄù Frost said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be big to have her in there.âÄù

While Kessel and freshmen Kelly Terry and Sarah Davis have been big factors on offense, Erickson has led a recent offensive re-emergence by the GophersâÄô upperclassmen.

Erickson has recorded a point in each of the GophersâÄô last nine games, providing the Gophers the upperclassman presence that Frost had desired earlier in the season.

âÄú[The upperclassmen] know what it takes, and so theyâÄôve had to pick it up, and SarahâÄôs been doing a great job,âÄù Frost said. âÄúHer biggest strength is her shot, and sheâÄôs starting to use it more and more each game.âÄù