Gophers get chance to dethrone champs

Brian Deutsch

Minnesota’s women’s hockey team will try to avenge last season’s NCAA Championship game loss this weekend as it takes on No. 1 Wisconsin this weekend.

The fourth-ranked Gophers hit the road for the first time this season, playing a pair of games against the defending national-champion Badgers.

Both games are set to start at 2:07 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Kohl Center in Madison.

Minnesota (3-1-0 overall, 2-0-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) leads the rivalry 24-9-2, but last season’s results don’t show it.

Last year, the Badgers (6-0-0, 4-0-0 WCHA) denied the Gophers of their third straight NCAA Championship, shutting out Minnesota 3-0 in the championship game. The two teams met four times last season, with Wisconsin taking the series 3-1.

“Our returners know that we didn’t have a lot of success against Wisconsin last year,” coach Laura Halldorson said. “We want to change that trend and start off the season with a strong series in Madison.”

Minnesota won the initial meeting last season, but after the loss, the Badgers went on a hot streak. Wisconsin dominated the competition for the remainder of the season, going undefeated all the way to its first NCAA Championship.

This season the Badgers are currently undefeated after sweeping Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State and Ohio State, to continue their 18-game winning streak.

The Gophers used a gut-wrenching overtime loss to New Hampshire and a sweep over Minnesota State to prepare themselves for the Badges.

“Last weekend (against Minnesota State) was a confidence booster for us, but Wisconsin is a good team again this year,” senior forward Andrea Nichols said. “We just have to come ready to play.”

On paper, the WCHA foes match up well in almost every facet of the game.

Nichols and a strong Minnesota offense will go up against a Wisconsin defense featuring seven returning skaters, including one of the country’s best defenseman, senior Bobbi-Jo Slusar.

Slusar, the team’s captain and last year’s WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, has two goals and four assists in six games this season.

“I’m looking forward to some great games,” Nichols said. “We always have good games against Wisconsin – they’re always exciting.”

Minnesota’s young defense will also have a chance to improve further against a Badgers offense that skates four freshmen forwards.

The two teams also feature some of the best goaltending in the WCHA.

Wisconsin lists both senior Christine Dufour and sophomore Jessie Vetter as possible starters for this weekend.

Vetter shut out the Gophers in their last meeting, recording the first two shutouts in Frozen Four history and was named Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player.

“We know that (Vetter) is a good goalie,” Nichols said. “We have to put the puck on net, give her a lot of shots and try to find holes.”

Minnesota’s goaltending isn’t exactly shabby though. Sophomore Brittony Chartier owns a .857 save percentage, while last season’s WCHA Goaltending Champion, sophomore Kim Hanlon, is still sidelined with an injury.

“(The series) is an opportunity to see where we stack up against a team like Wisconsin,” Halldorson said. “It should be two exciting games.”

The excitement has already begun for the Gophers according to junior forward Whitney Graft.

“We are getting really excited; it’s a huge series against Wisconsin,” Graft said. “We have a chance to get back at them for last season.”