clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Border Battle Experience: Women’s Hockey

Starring Claudia Kepler and Cogan’s Heroes

Fans line up one hour before the gates open as the blue evening sky turns grey. When it’s time to enter and get prime seating, they’re greeted to a rousing rendition of “And Then There’s Maude.”

“Your ‘W’ is upside down,” one sign says.

Yet another: “Be Smart—don’t spin your head.”

Families, friends, and fans gather during this Olympic season to get a glimpse of the athletes who will be competing four, eight, and 12 years from now for the U.S. and Canada. Just as four, eight, and 12 years ago, the Olympians now in Pyeongchang graced the ice in Madison and Minneapolis. A child steps on the ice, “I’m Declan, I’m seven years old, and I’m going to play the Star Spangled Banner,” and the stands erupt.

This is Badger hockey, and the much-hated rival Minnesota is in town. So are power players Barry Alvarez and WCHA women’s hockey commissioner Katie Million.

“The border battle is always one of the premier games of the season” Million said. “Usually boils down to seeds one and two in the league, and a lot of times battling for either playoff spots or home ice advantage in our playoff. It’s always an exciting game for us whether it’s here in Wisconsin or Minneapolis. It’s always a fun one.”

Friday would indeed be another fun one.

The puck drops, and Abby Roque gives Wisconsin the first possession. What follows is a dance of sizzling skates, dangles, tricks, and cheers. Sometimes the dance is a waltz, sometimes a tango, and other times a mosh pit. If you thought physical women’s hockey was limited to U.S. vs. Canada, you haven’t been watching Wisconsin hockey. Heck, you haven’t watched much women’s hockey at all.

In fact, when the team isn’t dancing on the ice, the stands are full of thousands of fans dancing at every opportunity.

The game started off with some solid breakaway opportunities by Wisconsin, to the chorus of “ooohs” and “aaaaahs” by the Badger faithful. But Wisconsin fell into a familiar trap in the first period: plenty of shots, but not all quality opportunities.

Then the horn blares… but no cheer. Gophers take the lead.

A “You still suck” chant echoes from the students in attendance as Phil Dzick shouts, “Are you ready, Badger fans?”

Before his “Go! Red!” chant can get off the ground, a few minutes later, another goal for Minnesota.

This time, the “You still suck” chant isn’t quite as loud. The LaBahn Arena faithful sink in their chairs as the team heads into the locker room.

“The first 10 minutes of the game were really good on our end,” Badger coach Mark Johnson said. “I think they had one shot, or maybe two shots.

They capitalized shortly after that with just a mistake by us ... Then they capitalized again.”

In the second period, the Badgers brought their A-game. More opportunities lead to more cheers. Sam Cogan took charge, scoring a pair of second-period goals.

Unfortunately for Bucky, Minnesota found another opportunity to capitalize, and the Badgers ended the second period with a 3–2 deficit.

When you’re down one goal heading into the third period, what are the keys to success?

“We wanted to stick to the little things and shoot the puck quicker ... it’s that simple.”

Kepler indeed kept it simple with a quick shot on the net to give the Badgers a tie game, and later the lead.

And then with 5:58 left in the game, senior captain Claudia Kepler scored the game-winning goal. Her inspiration?

“I saw Sarah Nurse do it in the Olympics; I thought I’d give it a try,” Kepler said with a laugh.

We’ll let you be the judge:

The Badgers continued to hold Minnesota off the board, and the fans roared for six straight minutes to close off the game, crescendoing until the final horn blew on a 4–3 Wisconsin win.

“How about ‘dem apples?” exclaims Badger goalie coach Mark Greenhalgh to commissioner Katie Million as he rushes to congratulate his team.

Red apples.