The Wisconsin women’s hockey team heads to Minneapolis on Friday for the Frozen Four. They will meet familiar foe Minnesota in the first of two national semifinals to be contested. The winner will go on to face the winner of Boston College and Harvard for the national championship on Sunday.
It is the Badgers' eighth Frozen Four appearance in 10 years, the most of any team over that stretch. Wisconsin enters the weekend with the nation's longest winning streak at six games. The Badgers have out-scored their opponents 22-4 in the post season and that +18 margin is also best in the country.
The Gophers have a 15-game home unbeaten streak (13-0-2) and are 61-2-4 in their last 67 home games, dating back to Feb. 18, 2012.
Wisconsin and Minnesota met four times during the regular season. Minnesota took three wins and the teams tied their final time out in mid-January. The Badgers have not beaten Minnesota the past 15 times they have met. The Gophers have a 43-26-9 all-time record against Wisconsin.
The teams met in a national semifinal last season, with Minnesota coming out on top 5-3. Wisconsin carried a 3-2 lead into the final period, but couldn’t hold on against a potent Minnesota offense. Interestingly, the Gophers and Badgers have met in three of the four past Frozen Fours but have not met in the WCHA conference tournament over that span.
The match up features 15 All-WCHA selections, including Player of the Year, Minnesota's Hannah Brandt (who is also a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award) and Rookie of the Year, Wisconsin's Annie Pankowski.
Both Mellissa Channell, who was injured in the quarterfinal against Boston College, and Brittany Ammerman, who received a game misconduct penalty, are available for the game. Channell may be a game time decision, but has practiced with the team all week.
These two teams match up extremely well on paper, with a negligible difference in rank or number in most stats.
Wisconsin leads the nation in goals against, averaging just 1.08. Minnesota is right behind them, averaging 1.18 goals against. Wisconsin has the nation's leading penalty kill at 96.6%. The Gophers have the country's best power play, scoring 31% of the time. Minnesota goalie Amanda Levielle has a .945 save percentage. UW's Ann-Renée Desbiens saves at a .943 clip.
For Wisconsin to finally break through against Minnesota, they're going to need to find a way to sustain pressure and pepper the net. The Badgers have held a significant shot advantage over the rest of their opponents this season, but haven't had the same success against the Gophers.
Wisconsin and Minnesota both have 122 shots on goal over the course of their four meetings. Significantly, though, the Gophers are out-shooting Wisconsin 58-36 in the final period. When Wisconsin most needs to step up their play and Minnesota could have been resting on their lead, the Gophers are picking up he pressure and Wisconsin isn't able to maintain it. Over the first two periods, Wisconsin owns the shot lead 110-86, so they need to find a way to not let Minnesota take over in the final frame.
With two evenly matched teams and a lot written about the rivalry, we went right to the source for some more in-depth analysis of this game.
We exchanged five questions about this match up with Minnesota SBN site The Daily Gopher. Their Andy York covers the Minnesota women's hockey team. Here's his half of the preview.