Border battle rivalry comes to Ridder Arena for a weekend series

Third-ranked Wisconsin will play at No. 4 Minnesota this weekend.

Zach Eisendrath

Minnesota’s women’s hockey’s team returns to conference action this weekend when the defending national champions host third-ranked (9-1-0, 7-1-0 WCHA) Wisconsin at Ridder Arena.

Both games are night affairs, set for 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday.

The fourth-ranked Gophers (9-3-0, 4-2-0 WCHA) are coming off their first home sweep of the season, over nonconference opponent Brown last weekend, in which the team played its most consistent hockey of the season.

The Badgers head into the contest carrying a nine-game win streak.

Although the Badgers have lost a few key defenders from a year ago, Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said the Badgers’ new freshmen offensive threats could create problems for the Gophers.

“They’re going to come in with some talented forwards,” she said. “We need to do a good job of playing defense in our own end.

“If we’re successful (defensively), we’ll generate some offense and get our chances at the other end.”

A fast start could determine the fate of this weekend’s slate of games. The Gophers are 6-0 when scoring the game’s first goal, while the Badgers are also undefeated when scoring first.

“We emphasize starting strong,” Halldorson said. “When the team scores first, it definitely gives them the momentum and has the potential of putting the other team back on their heels.”

Minnesota lost its last Western Collegiate Hockey Association game Nov. 5 when then-unranked Ohio State shocked the Gophers 2-1 in sudden-death overtime. The Buckeyes scored first in that contest.

Looking at the big picture, Halldorson said, the series doesn’t have significance only within the conference. A successful weekend for Minnesota could re-establish the Gophers’ credibility on the national scene.

“It’s huge whenever we get a chance to play a team that’s higher than we are in the standings,” Halldorson said.

“There will be four points on the line this weekend, it’s a home series, so we want to try and take advantage of that. “

Recruits sign

Halldorson announced Monday that forwards Kelli Blankenship and Brittany Francis, and defenders Michelle Maunu and Alexandra Zebro have signed letters of intent and will join the Gophers in fall 2006.

Halldorson said all four players should be able to contribute right away and will have no problem fitting in with the team’s strongpoint: team chemistry.

“I’m excited about the personalities of the players we’re bringing in,” Halldorson said. “I think they’ll fit well with our current players.”