Badgers travel to Minneapolis in another hotly contested matchup · The Badger Herald

The best rivalry in college hockey for women will resume next weekend when the women’s hockey team No. 1 University of Wisconsin (8-2-0) travels to Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers No. 2 (8-3-0) at the Knights Arena. The Badgers come worst in their most recent meeting with the Gophers, but Minnesota will look for revenge when the two teams meet again in this important game in February. Here are some thoughts before the second match in Border Battle 2020-21.

The history of border fighting

With 11 combined national championships, six of which are the last nine, these two teams are the most laid-back programs in all women’s college hockey as well as tough rivals. The Minnesota-Wisconsin rivalry is widespread in all sports, but it is magnified in women’s hockey. The constant success of both teams makes it one of the best rivals in all college sports. Overall, Minnesota leads the series 53-43-12, but as of late, Wisconsin has prevailed and went 14-5-3 in the last 20 meetings, including a two-game sweep when the two teams matched in January.

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With only three weeks left in the regular season, this already polarizing match is magnified as it has huge consequences for the WCHA regular season title. This season, the points percentage will be used to determine the champion in the regular season. As of now, Wisconsin has a large lead with a .833 percentage. Minnesota is currently second with a .727 percentage. The Badgers sweep of Minnesota in January was extremely important for the race, and it seems that Minnesota may need to return with its own sweep to stay in contention for the regular season crown, as well as the No. 1 seed in the WCHA Final Faceoff.

Talent everywhere

Minnesota’s Grace Zumwinkle ranks 24th in the country with eight goals in Gopher’s 11 games. But it’s not just her. Gophers has five of the country’s ten leading scorers. Although they have a good offense, most of their talent is on the back end. Minnesota has without a doubt the best defense force in the country. Their best pairing of Emily Brown and Crystalyn Hengler is as good as you’ll find anywhere in college hockey. They have the ability to shut down any team at any time.

For the Badgers, Daryl Watts leads the nation with 11 goals and her 10 assists through ten games are ranked as second in the country. Watts, a senior from Ontario, comes from one of the most dominant seasons in WCHA history, a year in which she scored 74 points and an incredible 25 goals in just 36 games for one point per game (PPG) averaging 2.05. Remarkably, through ten games, her PPG is even higher, at 2.1. Last weekend against St. Cloud State put Watts out with a hat trick and four points in total in Friday’s matchup. She followed up that performance with another goal and another assist on Saturday for an impressive six-point weekend. After a somewhat slow start, Watts has caught fire late with a goal stretch that extends over six games.

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What makes this Wisconsin team so good is that it does not just rely on Watts. The Badgers have three of the top ten scorers in the country with Sophie Shirley 16 points placing her in fourth place, and Brette Pettets 14 points placing her in seventh. The team’s latest addition, Lacey Eden, already has three goals in her first four games as a Badger, including the match-winning goal last Saturday. This Wisconsin team is charged from top to bottom.

Goalkeeper

While goalkeeping is always a big deal, it is reinforced in a series like this one that has so much offensive skill on both sides. For Minnesota, they turn to Lauren Bench, a senior in a red shirt, while Wisconsin similarly leans on seniors in Kennedy Blair.

Bench, the transfer from Bemidji State, is in his first year with Minnesota. She has been extremely impressive so far, with a very impressive savings percentage of 0.940 and a goal-versus-average of 1.79. She has started 10 of 11 games for the Gophers this season and blocking any unforeseen circumstances will start both games against Wisconsin this weekend.

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Like Bench, Blair is also a transfer who is playing his first year at his respective school. Blair began her career in North Dakota, but when they shut down her program, she moved to Mercyhurst and played three seasons there. She was fantastic for three seasons for the Lakers but chose to move to Wisconsin for her final season of college hockey. Through ten games, Blair has been incredible.

Among goalkeepers who have played ten or more matches, she is third in the country in saving percentage and goals against the average with a ridiculous 0.950 SV% and a 1.35 GAA. Wisconsin has a long history of great goalkeepers, and so far Blair has been no exception to the trend.

Last time these two teams played, Bench really struggled. In the first game, she was pulled out after the second period after allowing four goals on 21 shots. Game two was no better as she allowed five goals on just 22 shots. She really fought against the powerful Badger crime.

On the other hand, Blair was outstanding. During the two games, she allowed only three goals, including a 30-yard suspension in game one.

It should be interesting to see how Bench will respond after what was the absolute worst two games of her career in Minnesota.

Number one

For the past three seasons, Wisconsin has spent 35 weeks ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, including eight out of nine this season. The only other two-digit program during this time period has been Minnesota, which has held the top spot for ten weeks. Minnesota briefly ranked No. 1 this season the week before the final game against Border Battle, but after Wisconsin dominated them in both games, the Badgers regained the top spot.

Border Battle is as good as it gets in college hockey for women, with what are probably the two best programs from year to year. As always, when Minnesota and Wisconsin meet, we’re looking for a treat.

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