One weekend at a time

Women's hockey team's first Frozen Four appearance is tantalizingly, if tenuously, within reach

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Related - The Miracle on Film

The Wisconsin women's hockey team will head to a theatre Friday along with its coach, Mark Johnson, to see the movie "Miracle", which tells the story of the 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice" that Johnson took part in 24 years ago.


Saturday, the Badgers get back to work, facing off with Minnesota State for the first offering of a two-game series at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. (the puck drops at 2:35 p.m. Saturday and Sunday).


With 10 games remaining, Wisconsin stands tantalizingly close to reaching postseason play for the first time in the program's history. In its fifth year of existence, the women's hockey team carries a 99-46-17 overall record and has finished no worse than third in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.


After finishing No. 7 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll for two consecutive years, the team concluded last season ranked fifth. Unfortunately for the Badgers, the NCAA only invites four teams to postseason play.


Currently, Wisconsin is No. 4 in the poll, but more importantly is rated fourth in the Pairwise Rankings, which are also compiled by and are a near-perfect determinant of the postseason field.


"If the season ended today we'd all be smiling but unfortunately it doesn't," Johnson said.


The Badgers replaced eight seniors this season and opened 4-3 but have gone 11-1-3 since.


"As long as we keep that train on track we'll be OK," junior defenseman Carla MacLeod said. "As long as we can control what we can control, in the end, hopefully we will be where we want to be."


In both men's and women's college hockey the selection process for NCAA tournament berths is based entirely on a formula that compares every team with a record over .500 against each other based on five criteria: head-to-head competition, strength of schedule, record against common opponents, record against teams above .500 and record in last 16 games. For each comparison a team wins, it is awarded a point.


The PWR attempts to mimic the NCAA's system and has been exceptionally effective, correctly predicting every team to reach the men's tournament the past four years and the women's tournament for all three years of its existence.


In women's hockey, in effect, every game becomes a playoff game as teams jockey for a spot in the Frozen Four.


"It doesn't take much to slip real quick if you don't take care of business," Johnson said. "If you get ahead of yourself and make a mistake along the way you are out, so there is a lot of pressure in those situations because there is no way at the end to make anything up if you lose something now."


Especially for the Badgers, who are clinging to that fourth spot by the slimmest of margins. Wisconsin and St. Lawrence each have 10 PWR points, but the Badgers have an advantage in the Ratings Percentage Index (.5996 to .5879), which serves as tie-breaker.


This weekend's opponent, Minnesota State, is in fifth place in the WCHA with 15 points (6-5-3 conference, 13-7-3 overall), eight behind second-place Wisconsin (11-1-4, 15-4-3), but handed No. 2 Minnesota only its second loss of the season its last time out. After the home series with the Mavericks, the Badgers travel to take on the Gophers next weekend.


"You can't think about Sunday's game," Johnson said. "You have to take care of Saturday's game and then when the weekend's over you look forward to playing Minnesota."


—Katie Gilbert contributed to this story

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