Despite traveling to Connecticut for the Frozen Four, Wisconsin will be facing old nemesis Minnesota in the National semifinal Friday afternoon. The teams have faced each other more than 70 times in program history and this time it's for the right to play for the national championship.
The game is not televised, but is available via a free stream on NCAA.com -- the link will be on this page once it goes live. The streams from NCAA were spotty last week, but I have heard that watching an archived game from the site can help get your computer settings correct in advance of the start of the game.
The UW athletics staff always live blogs the games and they have their site live along with links to the video and audio, making it a one-stop shop for all the things you'll need to watch the game.
Should the Golden Gophers win, it would be their third national championship game in a row. They are the two-time defending national champion. Minnesota also holds the all-time record between the two teams (26-39-8), has lost just one game in the past two seasons and is 78-1-1.
Wisconsin, however, has the upper hand in NCAA post-season games. Wisconsin defeated Minnesota in the 2006 title game, as well as in the 2008 quarterfinals. More recently, Minnesota won the 2012 national championship game.
The Badgers will be hoping history is on their side: they are 17-3 in NCAA tournament games, the best in NCAA history. They have advanced to the Frozen Four seven times and each of the past six times have made it to the national championship game.
Of course, a different kind of history shows the Badgers without a win in the past 12 meetings against Minnesota (0-11-1) in which they've mustered just 12 goals and have been shutout four times. Whereas Minnesota has found an offensive depth in the loss of leading scorer Amanda Kessel to the Olympics, the Badgers' scoring has come almost exclusively from their first line of redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman, junior Blayre Turnbull and junior Katy Josephs.
As is always the case with rivals, very little of any of the history will matter when the teams face off on Friday. The onus is on Wisconsin to kill the losing streak that senior captain Alex Rigsby has admitted the team is conscious of. She said the team is sick of losing to Minnesota.
The Badgers will have to find a way to score -- early and often would be best. Minnesota is used to having the lead and being in control. Wisconsin has gone through dry spells on the offensive front and has to find a way to counter that tendency here. Minnesota goalie Amanda Leveille is prone to giving up rebounds and Wisconsin needs to exploit that. Putting the Gophers on their heels early would go a long way to building Wisconsin's confidence and putting a dent in the Gophers'.
It would also be a great time for the Badgers' third line to rear its ugly head. Senior Ilana Friedman called this line "slimy" during Fill the Bowl weekend, but they've been quiet in the final weeks of the season. Freshman Sarah Nurse has shown flashes of absolute brilliance this season, but looked a little wild and unable to control both her skating and her puck in the final couple of games of the season. If she can find a way to harness some of the clear raw skill she possesses and put it all together against Minnesota, it'll provide another matchup and spread out the defense. Her speed and puck-handling are a potent combination and if she can calm down, take a deep breath and find a way to keep the frenetic energy of her game under control, she'll be lethal.
Minnesota just has to go out and continue to do what it's done -- in many ways, there's no special prep needed for the Gophers and they can maintain the status quo. It's on the Badgers to go out there and shake off the past 2 1/2 years and decide to prove history and the pundits wrong.
Look for Turnbull to be a major factor in this game, and not just because of her scoring numbers. Throughout the season, she's shown a propensity to take the team (and the game) onto herself when she's felt it slipping away. It's been clear that she's not letting this season go down without a serious fight, so if the Badgers are stumbling or the energy is lagging, watch for No. 17 to be the one rallying her teammates, but also trying to take the puck coast-to-coast and singlehandedly make a difference in the game. It's not always easy to explain her attitude, but you'll know it when you see it. It's as though she's decided her own sheer force of will can change the course of the game. And it often does.
For more information on key players, including some great intel from enemy camp The Daily Gopher, my preview for Fill the Bowl a month ago is still very relevant.