Border battle takes on new meaning as Gophers eye record

Minnesota has a chance to break Wisconsin’s streak of 32 games without a loss at the new LaBahn Arena.

Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek chases the puck down the ice during a game against Wisconsin on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, at Ridder Arena.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota defenseman Megan Bozek chases the puck down the ice during a game against Wisconsin on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, at Ridder Arena.

Megan Ryan

This weekend’s women’s hockey matchup between Minnesota and Wisconsin isn’t an ordinary border battle.

For the Gophers, it’s a chance to break another record. For the Badgers, it’s a chance for revenge.

When the two teams meet in Wisconsin’s new LaBahn Arena on Friday and Sunday, the Gophers will look to stay unbeaten and claim another NCAA record in the process.

Fittingly, Wisconsin set the 32-game unbeaten record twice — in 2006-07 and last season. Even more fitting, it was Minnesota that ended the Badgers’ streak last season with a 3-2 upset on the road.

Both Gophers senior defender Megan Bozek and Badgers senior forward Brianna Decker are aware of the coincidence.

“Obviously, our team is kind of aware of it,” Decker said. “But they beat us when we set the record … and now it is a chance for us to beat them.”

Adding to the intensity, Minnesota won the NCAA championship last year against Wisconsin even though the Badgers won the WCHA and were ranked above the Gophers.

“I think we just want to be able to get back at them a little bit,” Decker said. “So, yeah, I think there’s a little more on top of it.”

The feeling is mutual.

Bozek said she remembers the way her team struggled against its eastern rivals in her first two years.

In 2009-10, the Gophers had a 1-3 record with the Badgers. A year later, the team had a 1-2-1 record and lost to the Badgers in the WCHA Final Faceoff.

“I think they play with a chip on their shoulder,” Bozek said. “But then again, we play with a chip on our shoulder for our junior and seniors that struggled against them our first two years.”

Bozek attributed her freshman and sophomore struggles against Wisconsin to  key former players  like Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight and Carolyne Prevost.

However, the momentum shifted last year as the Gophers boasted a 2-1-1 record in the regular season with Wisconsin before their defining national championship win.

In early December, the Gophers beat the Badgers 4-1 and 2-0 at home in the teams’ first meetings this season.

“I think that we’ve really proved ourselves last year and this year so far against them,” Bozek said.

Minnesota head coach Brad Frost said the back-and-forth nature of the rivalry has only helped his team’s conviction.

“I think it’s been real important over the last year and a half here for us to actually have some good success against them,” Frost said, “because there was a stretch there where we weren’t really having much success against them at all.

“It’s intensified the rivalry from our players’ standpoint because now they know they can beat Wisconsin.”

Frost pointed to key Wisconsin players his team would focus on, such as Decker and junior goaltender Alex Rigsby.

Bozek said she thinks Decker and Rigsby are two of the best players for their positions in the world.

“Brianna Decker has speed, a shot, hands and leads that team like no one I’ve ever seen lead a team before,” Bozek said.

Decker pointed to junior forward Amanda Kessel and senior goaltender Noora Räty as threats for the Gophers.

Bozek called Minnesota and Wisconsin “one of the best rivalries in hockey history” and said a record-breaking game against the Badgers might parallel the NCAA championship win.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment here to put on that jersey every day with the ‘M’ and know that you’re making history every game,” Bozek said. “And making history against Wisconsin — I don’t think that there’s anything better.”