Gophers host Badgers for rematch in quarterfinals

This is the sixth time the two have met this year, but never with so much on the line.

To the Minnesota women’s hockey team, it’s probably starting to seem that Wisconsin is the only other team left in the NCAA.

“Have we played anyone else this season?” senior forward Erica McKenzie joked.

The Gophers have certainly seen a lot of the Badgers lately, and this weekend’s NCAA tournament regional game will be no exception.

At 7 p.m. on Saturday, Minnesota and Wisconsin will battle for a final time at Ridder Arena, this time with a Frozen Four berth on the line.

It would seem by now that the Gophers would be sick of playing the Badgers, but senior forward Anya Miller said this is a brand new situation.

“I don’t care if we’d played them 20 times this year,” she said. “This game, alone, is so different than any of the others that you’re not tired of playing them.”

The winner will advance to play either Harvard or Dartmouth next Thursday in Duluth in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.

By now, both teams have seen more than enough of each other to know what to expect, but preparation for the Gophers, if anything, has been more intense this week.

Minnesota (2-1-0 postseason) started practice late yesterday after its film session went longer than usual.

Head coach Brad Frost and assistant coach Laura Slominski suited up in full pads, as well, and former Gopher Natalie Darwitz came and played with the team.

All this work is for good reason. The Badgers have had Minnesota’s number all year, as they are 3-1-1 on the season against the Gophers. In addition, Wisconsin is currently one of the hottest teams in the country.

In the second half of the season, the Badgers are 15-2-1, with both losses coming against No. 2/3 Minnesota-Duluth, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season and tournament champion.

But Frost isn’t concerning himself with momentum or past results.

“It’s not about what’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “It’s about 60 minutes of hockey.”

Still, there are signs that suggest Saturday’s 60 minutes may be different than the previous 300 the teams have played against each other this year.

Wisconsin’s (3-1-0) success has largely been due to one of the finest defenses in the NCAA, along with one of the nation’s best goalkeepers in junior Jessie Vetter.

Last weekend, however, the Gophers and Duluth managed to put a few chinks in the Badgers’ armor as they combined to notch eight goals in just two games.

Wisconsin’s scoring defense was a stellar 1.29 in conference play this season; thus far in the postseason it’s 2.50.

And the Badgers will have to play in Ridder Arena, a place that hasn’t been kind to visiting teams this season.

Though Wisconsin is responsible for Minnesota’s only blemish at home, the Gophers are an impressive 16-1-3 at Ridder.

Plus, Minnesota’s five seniors plan on making the most of their final home game.

McKenzie said she is sad to be leaving but jumps at the chance to flip the Gophers’ fortunes against the Badgers.

“The circumstances couldn’t be any better,” she said. “First round of the NCAA Tournament, playing Wisconsin at home; you can’t ask for a better way to go out of Ridder Arena.”