Border battle weekend for hockey

by Monica Wright

This weekend, while the rest of us are thinking about turkey and pumpkin pie, the Minnesota women’s hockey team (8-2-0,7-1-0 WCHA) will be focused on an entirely different kind of food, one known to cause headaches among WCHA teams: cheese.
If the catchphrase for the conference this year is ‘anything can happen,’ then Wisconsin — the Gophers’ rival this weekend in Madison — was the team that inspired it.
Last year in their inaugural season the Badgers blended in with the rest of the WCHA: They played some tough games, but more often than not got clobbered by their opponents.
The Gophers, on the other hand, were third-year veterans notorious for things like twelve-game winning streaks and double-digit shutout victories. Throw in their national championship win and it looked as if Minnesota was set to reign supreme for years to come.
But after Minnesota’s 4-2 loss to Ohio State in early October and Wisconsin’s staggering win over defending WCHA champions Minnesota-Duluth, the Gophers were forced into the realization that it wasn’t a two-team league anymore.
“We are definitely going to be taking Wisconsin seriously,” junior Laura Slominski said. “They are a lot stronger than last year, a more well-rounded team that has done excellent so far.”
The Badgers excellence lies in a strong recruiting class that delivered a much-needed goal scorer to the team in the form of Meghan Hunter. Hunter, who had fourteen points last weekend against Bemidji State, now leads the nation in points with 36.
Coach Laura Halldorson, who brought in eight rookies this season to bolster the Gopher roster, said the difference in the Badgers is clear.
“Last year they had a strong defender and strong goaltending,” Halldorson said. “This year they’ve rounded it out with a pair of good defenders in front of goalie Jackie MacMillan, as well as forward Meghan Hunter who puts it in the net for them.”
Adding to the pressure on the Gophers is the threat of losing their first-place status in the WCHA.
Two weekends ago Minnesota blanked the Bulldogs 4-0, 8-0 to garner four points from Duluth and the lone lead in the conference.
But Wisconsin wasn’t exactly waiting to be bucked in the standings. After demolishing Bemidji State 8-0, 14-4 — a weekend in which Hunter set a league record with nine points in one game — the Badgers moved into second place, just one point away from taking over the coveted top spot.
Despite Wisconsin’s added strengths, the Gophers are far from counting themselves out of the battle.
With senior and last year’s leading goal scorer Nadine Muzerall back on track after a long point drought. The Gophers also had last weekend off, and Slominski said the Gophers are more than prepared for the games ahead.
“I think having time off was good for the team because we’re going to be missing Thanksgiving,” Slominski said. “We’re coming off a strong weekend against Duluth and road trips are always good team bonding time which is always good for us to hang out together.”