This is a big weekend in college hockey. The Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be duking it out in not one, but two critical series! The women’s hockey teams are not only battling for first place in the WCHA but also the No. 1 ranking in the country. The men are in a one vs. two showdown of their own for the lead in the Big Ten Conference.
We had some questions and who better to answer them than Andy York at The Daily Gopher? If you are interested in our answers to their questions, you can find them here at TDG.
Needless to say, this is a huge weekend for both men’s and women’s hockey teams. First place is on the line in the WCHA and Big Ten! The UW women swept the Gopher women pretty handily earlier this season, so how has Minnesota bounced back to remain No. 2, both in the WCHA and the nation?
It has been a mixed bag. Minnesota remains No. 2 in the national polls despite being run off the ice by the Badgers and even for two weeks up to this week still had one person in the USCHO poll giving them a first place vote over the Badgers (if anyone knows who we would love to know why...).
The Gophers had a week off to regroup and then went to Columbus last weekend and did the same thing that both the Gophers and Badgers keep going which is split with OSU. In eight series between the Buckeyes and MN/WI it’s a perfect 4-4 split. Northeastern has come on lately but other than them with the Ivies not playing this season it’s pretty obvious Wisconsin/Minnesota/Ohio State are the top three in the WCHA and probably in the nation in some order.
Wisconsin definitely has the early edge over the Gophers, and I’d put them overt he Buckeyes as well. But I do think it will probably come down to one random game on an unfamiliar ice sheet in Erie in which frankly I could see Wisconsin, Minnesota or Ohio State all having the better day and getting the most important win.
The Gophers seem to have a pretty balanced scoring attack, led by senior Grace Zumwinkle, but who else should we be on the lookout for to score this weekend?
Minnesota has really spread the wealth when it comes to scoring this season. The Gophers beat Ohio State 7-4 last Friday and had seven different goal scorers. If you are looking for the next most likely player to find the back of the net besides Zumwinkle, Taylor Heise would be a good guess. She is second on the team with six goals and has the skill set to go coast to coast to get a goal or get a dirty, gritty goal on a rebound in front of the net if needed.
The hottest player on the roster—and arguably the most improved is junior Abigail Boreen. The Somerset, Wis. native had a goal in each of the games against the Buckeyes last weekend and has gone from a fourth line grinder to a third line scoring threat this season.
Of course, I would be remiss if I ignored Amy Potomak. The redshirt junior missed the first half of the season with a leg injury and has had a slow start to her season but she found the net in one of the games in Madison and of course won a game against the Badgers at Ridder last season with a gorgeous between the legs shootout winner.
What are your predictions for the series and for who wins the regular season conference title?
I think this is really a “show me” series for the Gophers. They got embarrassed by Wisconsin in Madison and get their chance for revenge on their home ice. I’d love to say I see Minnesota getting a sweep to counter, but I think I’d be really happy with a split this weekend.
Wisconsin is definitely in the driver’s set for the regular season title as of now, and has the much easier schedule left. Sure they have to head up to Duluth which can be tough but Minnesota gets to thank the WCHA scheduling gods with an extra fifth and sixth game against Ohio State at home next weekend. So unless the Gophers can get a sweep this weekend it’s pretty much a battle for second after that.
So I’ll predict a split this weekend, but the Badgers will take the regular season title at the end of the season. With the modified Final Faceoff playoff format announced this week it’s not a huge benefit other than last change, etc. and the ability to probably avoid Minnesota or Ohio State in the semifinal, but like I said I’ll be shocked if MN/WI/and OSU aren’t all in the Frozen Four a couple of weekends later needing to win one game when it really counts.
Switching over to the men’s side now: after UW beat UM to give them their first loss of the season the Gophers got swept by Notre Dame but in the last four games have been on an unholy tear, outscoring opponents 30-5 during those two series. What has clicked on the ice for Minnesota recently?
I think it was a wake up call at the right time. Bob Motzko said after that Notre Dame series that he was going to make them work in practice and it definitely seems to have paid off. The team seems much more self-motivating once again and in the last four games has looked much more like the team that started 10-0 in the fall of 2020 rather than the slow uninterested team of the fall of 2019 it resembled in the Irish series.
The Gophers just need to play their game and not play their opponent’s game which they definitely did against Notre Dame. A hot goalie helps too which Robbie Beydoun most definitely was in the Badgers win over Minnesota a few weeks ago making 34 saves.
Goalie Jack LaFontaine has only given up three goals in his last three starts, including one shutout against Arizona State. What does the Badgers offense have to do to get a couple pucks past him this weekend?
The Badgers will be a tougher team just due to their talent alone. Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway are two of the best scorers in the conference and Minnesota has had a pretty good game plan to control them over the last season and a half with Holloway pointless and Caufield with only with five points and just two goals in six games—which is a definite win for Minnesota.
It's 10 goals during the point streak, but who's counting https://t.co/u5i13aDszW— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) February 4, 2021
What the Badgers may need to do, and what they did do in their win in Madison is get some of their lower liners to take advantage of the attention that Caufield is getting and take advantage of more advantageous matchups. Tarek Baker and Linus Weissbach got goals in the win where Beydoun shut down the Gopher offense, and the Badgers did get three goals in the loss the next day including goals from Brock Caufield and Sam Stange to go along with Cole Caufield.
But Minnesota got their five goals which was enough. Wisconsin will get some goals this weekend—the question will be can they keep Minnesota off the board enough to get the win.
If the Badgers win both games in regulation they’ll move into first place in the Big Ten. Quite frankly, that seems unlikely, but what are your predictions for this series as well as who ends up winning the regular season B1G title?
I think Minnesota will at minimum get one win. This team really is clicking once again and I think it’s been proven they can score plenty of goals—it will be whether Beydoun can steal one. If I had to predict. I think Minnesota gets the sweep, but the Gophers will need to work a little extra to get one of the wins and only will take five of the six points on the weekend.
I think the Gophers will win the regular season title. They just are clicking on all cylinders right now and Jack LaFontaine has been amazing. With the exception of that three game stretch, the Gophers have looked like the better team in every single game they have played this season. There really haven’t been any flukey wins where they just get lucky.
While that may happen in the future, I think we have seen enough to believe the Gophers are the best top to bottom team in the conference, and the most consistent. The bigger test will be seeing if they can live up to that expectation in the postseason, which as any Minnesota fan knows is nowhere near a guarantee.