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Wisconsin women's hockey: Badgers face Minnesota in Frozen Four semifinals

Two evenly matched teams will face each other Friday at 5 p.m. for a chance to play in the national championship game.

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.

Wisconsin takes on Minnesota at 5 p.m. CT. The game is not televised, but a free livestream is available through Badger fans can also tune in to 92.1 in Madison or listen online here.

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.

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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.

B5Q: Minnesota handled RIT on the scoresheet, but it was a messy, penalty-riddled game. The Gophers lost to Bemidji in the Final Faceoff. What, if anything, do you think this says about where they are heading into this big rivalry game?

Daily Gopher: I think the last couple of weeks were a bit of a wakeup call, but not too much cause for concern.  Like lots of other highly talented teams, they occasionally take a period or two off when they know they can easily get past an opponent.  That happened some against RIT, and even for a period against Minnesota State the week prior in the WCHA First Round.  The one thing this team has struggled with at times this season are tight, low-scoring games against good goalies.  Now, Wisconsin has the potential to play that way, but my guess is that it will be the usual up and down game that usually occurs when these two teams play.
In any case, I don't think that Minnesota will go into this game thinking that can sleepwalk through a period.  If they do, they will be in trouble quickly.

B5Q: There are virtually no secrets between these two teams at this point. They know each other's strengths and weaknesses. What's a not-so-obvious factor that you think will make a difference this time around?

Daily Gopher: I think the biggest advantage, and unfortunately for Wisconsin there is not much they can do about it will be the fact that Minnesota will have 4,000 loud screaming fans in the building Friday night.  Two years ago when the Frozen Four was at Ridder, Minnesota had a huge home ice advantage, and I expect nothing less this weekend.  The ability to sleep in your own bed, play on your own ice, use your own locker room....its huge.

B5Q: Hannah Brandt, Rachel Bona, Maryanne Menafee, Rachel Ramsey, Dani Cameranesi, Lee Stecklein. It's a potent, multi-tiered threat for Minnesota. Who's the lesser-known Gopher that could have a big impact?

Daily Gopher: I have a few ideas.  The first one is another big name that you left out in goalie Amanda Leveille.  While Leveille does have a tendency to give up some juicy rebounds, she still makes most of the saves she needs to, some in spectacular fashion.  Wisconsin has only scored four goals in four games against Minnesota this season, with Leveille making 118 saves in the four games.  

Secondly would be two second line forwards in either Meghan Lorence or Kelly Pannek.  Lorence is a senior and has a knack for scoring some big goals in big situations, and definitely does not want to end her career with a loss to the Badgers. Pannek is a freshman who is tied for the lead in freshman scoring.  She lost out to WCHA freshman of the year to Ammerman, but she can put the puck in the back of the net.

B5Q: What scares you most about the Badgers this time around?

Daily Gopher: Wisconsin seems to be getting hot at the right time, which is key this time of year.  They easily took down a very talented BU team last weekend, and had no trouble scoring on Bemidji State unlike Minnesota.  The Badgers offense definitely seems to be clicking, and it will be tough for Leveille to hold WI to just one goal again. Desbiens seems to be in a groove, and if she can shut down the Gopher offense, ten things could get dicey. I think WI has a much better chance to win a 2-1 game over Minnesota than a 6-5 game.

B5Q: How has Minnesota changed since the last time these teams met, in mid-January?

Daily Gopher: I don't think they have changed much.  They have had a few rougher games here or there, but have also looked very impressive in some. Their defense is still great as it has been, and will help Leveille  clean up a lot around her net.  The Gophers are getting consistent scoring from their top two lines, and will get the occasional goal from their third line as well.  When these two teams have met, the top lines for both teams have shown brightly, and I don't expect anything else on Friday.