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Gophers women’s hockey: Border Battle preview

One of the most crucial conference matchups for the Gophers this season is on Friday and Saturday against rival Wisconsin.
Forward Abigail Boreen keeps and eye on Wisconsins Caitlin Schneider on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at Ridder Arena.
Image by Jack Rodgers
Forward Abigail Boreen keeps and eye on Wisconsin’s Caitlin Schneider on Sunday, March 10, 2019 at Ridder Arena.

Matchup History
On Friday and Saturday, No. 8 Wisconsin visits No. 3 Minnesota at Ridder Arena for round two of the Border Battle.

Minnesota has faced Wisconsin twice this season, winning one game in a shootout and losing the other in regulation. The Gophers have not suffered a home loss to Wisconsin since March 2021 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Final Faceoff.

In the overall series, the Gophers lead with 55 wins, 46 losses and 15 ties. Of the 42 home matchups that have not ended in a shootout or a tie, Minnesota has won 26 games.

Of their 10 most recent games, Minnesota has won six, although three of those wins were decided in a shootout.

Wisconsin’s win earlier this season snapped Minnesota’s five-game winning streak in the Border Battle; the streak spanned from December 2021 until November 2022.

Down Goes No. 1
In January 2022, Wisconsin was ranked first on USCHO’s women’s hockey rankings. The Badgers only had one regulation loss all season long coming into their late-January rivalry matchup at Minnesota.

The singular regulation loss: December 2021 vs. Minnesota.

After that loss, Wisconsin rebounded by nearly sweeping a top-five team in Quinnipiac; the Badgers took the first game in regulation and tied in the second game. Their next series would be against No. 5 Minnesota at Ridder Arena.

The Badgers would leave Minneapolis that weekend with two more regulation losses on their record.

A Goalie Battle
Wisconsin and Minnesota hold the two lowest goals-against averages in the WCHA with 1.42 and 1.67, respectively.

The two teams’ defensive success can be credited to two particular individuals: Skylar Vetter and Cami Kronish.

So far, Vetter, a sophomore, has been awarded WCHA goaltender of the month three times. She has an astounding five shutouts thus far, all in conference play. She has an impressive .934 save percentage and an individual 1.63 goals-allowed average in 23 WCHA games this season. This puts her in second in the WCHA for both categories, trailing behind none other than Kronish.

Kronish, a redshirt senior, trails Vetter by just one shutout in WCHA play with four. However, overall, Kronish has six shutouts. In 16 WCHA games played, she has a league-leading 1.18 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.

Wisconsin’s backup goaltender, Jane Gervais, also proves to be a solid option. The redshirt sophomore has two shutouts, one of them coming against an in-conference opponent. Gervais has a .918 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-allowed average in nine WCHA games played.

In the series in November, Vetter started both games for the Gophers. Kronish and Gervais were supposed to split the two games, but Gervais left the second game early following an injury. That weekend, Vetter stopped 76 out of the total 83 shots she faced, while Kronish stopped 64 out of 68 shots.

High-Powered Offense
Two of the top three offenses in the WCHA will be on display at Ridder Arena on Friday night. Minnesota is first in the conference with 113 goals scored in 24 games, averaging 4.71 goals per game. Wisconsin trails the Gophers’ overall goal total by 15 and averages 4.08 goals per game.

The top three goal scorers in the WCHA all belong to the Gophers; Abbey Murphy and Abigail Boreen are tied for first with 18 goals each, while Grace Zumwinkle resides in second with 17 goals. On top of this, Minnesota has two more players in the WCHA’s top 10 goal scorers, Taylor Heise and Peyton Hemp with 14 and 11 goals, respectively.

Heise, Zumwinkle and Murphy also hold the top three spots in the conference for point leaders: Heise has 44, Zumwinkle has 39 and Murphy has 33. Further, Heise is third in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in overall points with 50.

Wisconsin has two of the top 10 goal scorers in the WCHA. Britta Curl is in seventh with 13 goals, while Casey O’Brien is in ninth with 11 goals. O’Brien and Carolina Harvey have 27 and 26 points respectively, putting them as seventh and eighth in the WCHA point leaders.

The Stakes
Though there is a nine-point differential between the two teams in the standings, a sweep for either team can determine the outcome of their regular season.

The race for first place will be close as Minnesota only leads second-place Ohio State by two points. Failing to achieve enough points in this series could allow the Buckeyes to reclaim the top spot.

Wisconsin cannot move up or down in the WCHA standings no matter the outcome of this matchup but can gain ground on Minnesota and Ohio State with a sweep. All three teams have two series remaining, including this upcoming series.

The outcome of this edition of the Border Battle has implications for both the WCHA and NCAA playoffs. Both teams’ ranking can shift, promptly placing them in either a better or worse situation for the postseason.

The teams will face off at 6 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Ridder Arena. The final push before the playoffs begin.

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