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What to expect from Minnesota and Wisconsin in the NCAA National Championship

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Andy York from The Daily Gopher stops by to preview the ‘ship.

Big Ten Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the third time in program history, the Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey program will lock horns with Minnesota for the NCAA national championship.

While Wisconsin (34-4-2) is tied 1-1 in the previous two national championship games against Minnesota (32-5-1), the Gophers have a 4-1 edge overall in Frozen Four match-ups with the Badgers.

Minnesota leads the all-time series 51-38-11. This season, Wisconsin has the series edge 3-2 including the WCHA title game victory.

As we anxiously await puck drop (1:30 p.m. CT, BTN), Andy York from The Daily Gopher was kind enough to stop by and answer my questions and get to the bottom of where the Gophers stand heading into the finals.

Let’s get the obvious question out of the way. Who will Brad Frost start at goalie?

My guess is that he sticks with the platoon that he has ridden for a majority of the season--which means Sydney Scobee. Scobee got the 5-2 win in the Quarterfinal victory over Princeton and is 1-2 against the Badgers this season. She took the 4-1 loss in Madison and played probably her best game of the season making 37 saves in Minnesota’s 3-1 win over Wisconsin in the regular season at Ridder. She gave up two goals in the WCHA Championship game as well. Alex Gulstene is 1-1 against the Badgers this season and arguably has played just as well as Scobee has against Wisconsin, but I think Frost sticks with what got him here and that’s the platoon.

More general question as we don’t do many women’s hockey Q&As—what’s the common opinion on Brad Frost? Does he get the respect he deserves?

In Minnesota at least he does. Frost is known as a good recruiter and a solid Xs and Os coach. It helps that he has an amazing assistant in Joel Johnson who prior to this year lead the US Women’s U-18 team to four straight gold medals at the U-18 World Championships. Frost’s reputation is also helped by the four NCAA Championships since 2012 under his belt. Nationally obviously Mark Johnson is the better known name—at least to the casual viewer, and he deserves everything he has gotten in his career. But I think Frost automatically is in the consideration with Johnson and Shannon Miller as one of the best coaches ever in the women’s college game—and it’s his job behind the Gopher bench for as long as he wants it.

What is your assessment of the five previous games between these two teams?

For the most part it’s been pretty even. Wisconsin has the edge in goal with Kristen Campbell. She is more of the Nora Raty or Amanda Leveille type who can shut down a team on her own to win a game. Gulstene or Scobee aren’t that type for the most part. They rely on a really good defense in front of them who clear rebounds and don’t allow second chances. Wisconsin doesn’t need a ton of goals like that when they have playmakers like Annie Pankowski, Britta Curl or Emily Clark. So inherently I think Wisconsin has a slight advantage. Wisconsin is one of the teams that has the depth to match Minnesota. The Gophers may have a slight edge there that they have four lines they can reliably trust to score while Wisconsin probably only has three. But with the TV timeouts that advantage is negated a bit. But with both teams splitting the regular season series, it’s fairly obvious that either team could win on Sunday. If Minnesota wants to win it probably will need to be a low scoring grind it outgame like they played against Cornell, a 1-0 or 2-1 type of game. Minnesota can score but as Wisconsin has shown when they are on ... they are on and it would not be in Minnesota’s favor to get in a wide open shootout type of game. It all will come down to execution and probably a lucky bounce here or there.

Who should Badger fans watch out for on Sunday other than Kelly Pannek, Amy Potomak, and Sarah Potomak?

While the Pots and Pan line is the most well known for Minnesota, they actually have not been the post productive line for the Gophers. Minnesota’s top line of Nicole Schammel, Grace Zumwinkle and Taylor Wente were the highest scoring line. Schammel has 47 points on the season after her goal on Friday and she led the WCHA in assists with 31 heading into the weekend. She has three goals in the five games against Wisconsin this season. Zumwinkle was tied for the WCHA lead in goals before Pankowski went off on Friday for Wisconsin. Zumwinkle has a cannon for a shot and is a huge threat on the power play whenshe can get set up for a one-timer rocket. But Minnesota can score from other lines as well. Taylor Heise was in a fight with Sophie Shirley for the WCHA scoring lead for a freshman. She is the center on the Gophers third line. It’s just a matter if whether or not the Gophers can score on Wisconsin.

If you had to choose between, say, two more years with the Axe and a Gopher title Sunday, which would you choose? To what extent do you think the fan base would agree with you?

That’s a really hard one. In some ways it’s the Axe just because of how long it was since we had had it up to last year. But a natty is a natty ... and I think even P.J. Fleck would agree with me that as awesome as the Axe is, beating your rival for a national championship is even better. As for the rest of the fan base? If I got to make that decision, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t get out of the parking lot ... Minnesota has a very rabid women’s hockey fanbase ... but it’s crumbs in relations to those who are much much more invested in Gopher football. I’m sure it’s very similar for the “typical” Badger fan as well.

Predictions?

It will be a great game. These two teams don’t hate each other in like a clear the benches and fight kind of way, but there is no love lost between Minnesota and Wisconsin. When you face off with so much on the line so many times in the last fifteen years, both teams definitely know what is at stake. Wisconsin is incredibly good, but I just have a gut feeling that the streak of UW taking the gut punch from Minnesota at the Frozen Four continues. Gophers win 2-1.