Minnesota back to border battle

Wisconsin swept the Gophers for the first time since 2009 in December.

Gophers forward Kelly Pannek skates to the net in the NCAA Women's Frozen Four semifinal round vs. Wisconsin in Ridder Arena on Friday, March 20., 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File Photo

Gophers forward Kelly Pannek skates to the net in the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four semifinal round vs. Wisconsin in Ridder Arena on Friday, March 20., 2015.

Emily Polglaze

The Gophers lost the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season crown for the first time in four years last weekend, as Wisconsin clinched the title on Feb. 14.
 
 
Minnesota can still exact some form of retribution this weekend when they play the Badgers, which swept the Gophers earlier this season.
 
 
“People think we’re having a bad year because Wisconsin beat us or that they were down the last four years,” head coach Brad Frost said. “They haven’t been down. We just happen to have their number. So we’ll try and get back at them this weekend a little bit.”
 
 
The No. 3 Gophers (27-3-1, 22-3-1 WCHA) won two of the last three WCHA tournament titles in addition to their three regular season championships.
 
 
Wisconsin finished third in the conference in the 2012-13 season and second each of the past two. The Badgers also played Minnesota in the Frozen Four the past two seasons and lost both games.
 
 
This year No. 2 Wisconsin (30-1-1, 24-1-1 WCHA) pieced together a team that swept Minnesota for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
 
 
“We always talk about having respect for our opponent, and we as a team have a lot of respect for their offense,” freshman defenseman Sophie Skarzynski said. “They don’t give up, and they have a lot of grinders out there who do whatever they can to put the puck in the net.”
 
 
Wisconsin’s biggest strength this season has been a dominant defensive corps. The Badgers are first in the nation in total defense, allowing only .56 goals per game. Its penalty kill is also the best in the country with a 94.6 percent kill rate.
 
 
Junior goaltender Ann-Renee Desbiens leads the nation with 16 shutouts in 30 games and boasts a .607 goals against average.
 
 
Wisconsin has allowed only 18 goals all season. Minnesota, the fourth-ranked defense in the country, has let in 40.
 
 
The team’s veterans will look to avenge their earlier losses in the upcoming series, which doubles as senior weekend. 
 
 
“The way our schedule works, it worked well for us to play ranked teams at the end of the year,” senior captain Hannah Brandt said. “This weekend will be good leading into the playoffs, and hopefully we can improve every game going forward.”