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Wisconsin women’s hockey is making a run at a national title

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A gentle reminder that there’s some must-see Badgers hockey this weekend.

Wisconsin forward Emily Clark
David Stluka c/o UW Athletic Dept Communications

Look, I get it. There’s a lot going on.

But in the midst of the angst and prognostications and justifications, don’t forget there’s a top-flight Wisconsin Badgers team zeroing in on a national title this weekend.

Fresh off of a 7-0 beatdown of CHA champion Robert Morris, Wisconsin heads to St. Charles, Mo., in suburban St. Louis for the Frozen Four. Wisconsin (31-2-4) is the favorite to win coach Mark Johnson’s fifth national championship, which would be the team’s first since 2011. It is Wisconsin’s fourth consecutive Frozen Four appearance and its 10th since 2006.

Friday’s matchup, conveniently scheduled for 5 p.m. CT on Friday, sees the Badgers take on fourth-seeded Hockey East champion Boston College (27-5-5).

Led by senior forward Andie Anastos, the Eagles are deep and talented with five players in the top 35 nationally in points scored. BC drilled a quality St. Lawrence team 6-0 in the quarterfinal round. The Eagles are balanced—BC averages 3.42 goals and only allow 1.55 goals per game. Both totals are top-six nationally.

Hockey East was down a bit this year, particularly compared to WCHA, and BC had trouble with Minnesota-Duluth back in September. But the Eagles won the Beanpot and the victory over St. Lawrence was an eye-popping finish against a team some were talking about as a national title contender late in the season.

The other half of the bracket matches up two of the top forwards in the country, with second-seeded Clarkson, led by Patty Kazmaier Award top-three finalist Cayley Mercer, facing off against Minnesota and national total points and assists leader Kelly Pannek.

The Badgers swept Clarkson in Potsdam (a.k.a. the place in New York where Clarkson is located) back in October, but the Golden Knights bounced back quite well, running through a quality ECAC, losing only once all year after Wisconsin came to visit.

Wisconsin and Minnesota matched up four times this season. The Badgers went 1-1-2 over those games, but they did manage a 8-2 win at LaBahn Arena on the aptly named “Beat Minnesota” night (aren’t they all).

The Gophers came into the NCAA tournament as the No. 6 seed but upended Minnesota-Duluth in the quarterfinals 1-0. Minnesota is as dangerous as the other semifinalists; the Badgers should know—the Gophers upended Wisconsin in last year’s national semis.

A dangerous gopher? We’re as surprised as anyone.

We’ve said it before—Wisconsin is the place for women’s collegiate sports. We as fans are getting spoiled and, regardless of this weekend’s outcome, it will be nice to get one more run with the seniors.

GENERATIONAL TALENT Ann-Renée Desbiens (she of a .963 save percentage and 0.69 GAA) is quite possibly the best in a long line of gifted keepers that stretches from Alex Rigsby to Jessie Vetter back to Meghan Horras and others.

Jenny Ryan has been an anchor on the defense for years alongside fellow senior Mellissa Channell. Captain Sydney McKibbon leads a team full of leaders and Mikayla Johnson has answered the bell when called. Oh, and the nation’s second-leading goal scorer, Sarah Nurse, can do this:

At least we get another season with Patty Kaz top-10 finalist Annie Pankowski (tied with Nurse for second in goals) and Emily Clark, who, incidentally, can do this:

Between the fans filling the bowl for an NCAA-record crowd and Desbiens setting the NCAA career shutout record, it’s already been an historic season. Desbiens may take it a step farther and win Wisconsin’s fourth Patty Kaz this weekend.

If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, do so Friday. There’s still plenty of time and plenty of room. The madness of March does not just reside on the hardwood—Wisconsin’s best hope for a national championship this year may be on the ice down in St. Louis.