Off to the Kohl Center, where fans are loud and Badgers don’t lose

Wisconsin is 9-0-1 in its last ten games at home.

by Austin Cumblad

Wedged between two convincing sweeps in late October and early November is one of MinnesotaâÄôs more unsightly weekends.

There was border rival Wisconsin, without seven of its top eight scorers âÄî including Hobey Baker award winner Blake Geoffrion âÄî from its 2010 NCAA runner-up team. Minnesota had scored nine goals against Colorado College the previous Saturday. The 9,689 gathered at Mariucci Arena were fired up.

The Gophers were not.

The Badgers scored four second period goals en route to a 6-0 rout on that Friday night. A 3-3 tie the following night was only some consolation.

HereâÄôs to second chances.

Minnesota travels to the rowdy Kohl Center (capacity 15,325) for games Friday and Saturday night against 12th-ranked Wisconsin.

Prior to last weekend, the Badgers were one of the hottest teams in the country âÄî 9-1 since Christmas, sneaking up the WCHA standings and climbing as high as No. 7 in the national polls. After a split with Minnesota-Duluth on Jan. 14-15, Wisconsin blew through Minnesota State and conference punching bag Michigan Tech.

But the Badgers ran into a brick wall in the form of Nebraska-Omaha a week ago and were swept on the road, 4-1 and 4-3. With six WCHA games remaining, they are now six points behind the four teams clustered at the top of the standings.

Minnesota, trailing Wisconsin by three points, can vault the Badgers with a sweep.

But in order to sweep, the Gophers will have to solve Wisconsin senior goaltender Scott Gudmandson, who is fourth in the country with a 1.93 goals against average and sixth with a .930 save percentage. Minnesota got goals from seven different players in a win over Denver on Saturday and may need a similar offense by committee this weekend.

Nico Sacchetti returns after an illness kept him out of the Denver series, but head coach Don Lucia said Wednesday that senior captain Jay Barriball, who suffered a lower body injury in the first period Feb. 5, isnâÄôt expected to play in Madison.

Any shortage of forwards puts the Gophers in a precarious position, as two of the BadgersâÄô four 30-plus point scorers âÄî Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner âÄî are defensemen. Lucia said when the line mates are on the ice, all five of his skaters will need to be on high alert.

Schultz, the teamâÄôs leading scorer with 15 goals and 26 assists, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks. As for whom the Ducks took in the first round? That would be Gardiner, a junior whose brother Max is a freshman on the Gophers this year.

Max, a forward, has just one goal and one assist in 15 games this season, far less prolific than Jake, who is fourth on the team and 11th in the WCHA with 32 points on eight goals and 24 assists.

Max said Wednesday that in the first meeting between the teams, his mom wore Minnesota maroon and gold on Friday and Wisconsin cardinal and white on Saturday. What sheâÄôll do this weekend, heâÄôs not sure.