Top-ranked Gophers visit UW

Minnesota women's hockey team brings 25-game unbeaten streak to Kohl Center

The Wisconsin women's hockey team's 6-4 win over No. 5 Harvard last weekend could not have come at a better time. Nothing like beating last season's national runner-up to get revved up for playing the nation's top-ranked squad, Minnesota, which rolls into Madison this weekend for a two-game series at the Kohl Center, riding a 25-game unbeaten streak.

The win was especially useful, in that the Badgers (11-3-0 overall, 7-3-0 WCHA) were swept at No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth the first weekend in November.

"It gave us a lot of confidence," junior goaltender Meghan Horras said. "We know now that we can beat one of those top teams. I think we were a little shaky after Duluth, wondering if we could beat one of those top teams. Now we know that we can."

No team in women's college hockey, though, presents quite the same challenge as the Gophers, who boast the nation's top three scorers.

The last team to thwart the Minnesota's victory parade? Fourth-ranked Wisconsin, which will try to end Minnesota's streak when the puck drops at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Since the Badgers' 2-1 overtime win in Minneapolis Feb. 13, 2004, the Gophers are 23-0-2, having cruised to last year's national championship.

This season Minnesota has built a 13-0-1 résumé, with only three games decided by two or fewer goals.

"Always love to beat those Gophers," sophomore wing Lindsay Macy said. "It's only happened once in my career, but it felt good. It would be a good feeling to beat them again."

For a taste of Minnesota's talent level, check out its world-class power play. Junior forwards Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell and sophomore defender Lindsay Wall won silver medals with the 2002 U.S. Olympic team and will rejoin that team in 2006, likely alongside senior forward Kelly Stephens and possibly with senior goaltender Jody Horak.

"Are they good? Is that the word on the street? I'm going to have to revise my game plan," senior defender Carla MacLeod said in mock disbelief. "They are talented and there are no two ways about it. But they are not unstoppable. It is just a matter of sticking to our game plan and playing the way we need to play. You just need to respect them."

Wendell, Stephens and Wall each have eight power-play goals, while Darwitz has chipped in five for a unit that scores on a nation-leading 37.8 percent (34 of 90) of its chances.

Oh, and they do not just kill penalties off, they outscore entire teams short-handed. Minnesota has scored 17 short-handed goals in 14 games, already breaking the previous WCHA record of 13. Wendell and Darwitz lead the nation with six and four man-down goals, respectively. By comparison, the Gophers have allowed only 14 goals of any variety this season. Only seven teams in the nation have scored more power play goals than Minnesota has short-handed marks.

All told, Wendell leads the nation in goals (22), Darwitz in assists (31) and the duo is tied with a nation-leading 45 points. Stephens is third (32), Wall seventh (26). The Wendell-Darwitz-Stephens line has accounted for 54 of the team's 85 goals.

"They are just good hockey players and part of what makes them so good is they are creative," senior defender Molly Engstrom said. "They take the opportunity that you give them. If you let down, they are going to take advantage of it."

Wisconsin, however, is far from cowed.

"It pretty much is all mental," Macy said. "I feel like a lot of people go in there and they are like, ‘oh my God, that's Krissy Wendell and Natalie Darwitz and Kelly Stephens, they are so good. You can't stop them.' It is mental. We have to get by that because we can stop them."

The Badgers after all, have beaten Minnesota before. This Gopher team is deeper than the one Wisconsin last played, but the Badgers are an improved lot as well and are arguably the most balanced team in the nation. Eight players have double-figure point tallies and 17 of 20 skaters have scored goals. Wisconsin's power-play is No. 2 in the nation (28 percent success), the Badgers top line also boasts three of the nation's top scorers in center Sara Bauer (28 points) and wings Lindsay Macy (24) and Sharon Cole (18) and Wisconsin is second in the nation in goals scored (5.29) and third in goals allowed (1.43).

The Badgers, however, do not want to get in a shootout.

"We kind of did that with Harvard and we came out on top but I don't think that's the kind of game style we want to play," MacLeod said. "I think if we need some goals we are capable of putting the puck in the net, but do I foresee an 8-7 game? I hope not."

Wisconsin stands a good chance with either Horras or sophomore Christine Dufour in net. Dufour leads the nation with a 0.67 goals-against average and .963 save percentage and is second with three shutouts. Horras boasts a 1.88, .908 and two shutouts.

The Gophers, though, can play that game too. Netminder Jody Horak (0.99, .947) has a nation-leading four shutouts.

Familiarity could help. The two teams lock up at least four times every year and Wisconsin has a number of players with international experience, both with and against the Gopher elite, including veteran defenders Macleod and Engstrom, who competed for Canada and the U.S., respectively, in last month's Four Nation's Cup.

"They know everything about us too," Macy said. "It goes both ways. We just have to play our own game."

Spotlight shines

The No. 1 versus No. 4 showdown has drawn two live radio broadcasts to the Kohl Center, with WIBA-AM broadcasting locally and broadcasting over the Internet at

"It is going to be a big test. It is going to be a good opportunity for us to play well and get some recognition for it," Engstrom said. "As far as focusing on [the attention], you can't. You just have to go in and just play the game."

What: No. 4 Wisconsin (11-3-0, 7-3-0) vs. No. 1 Minnesota (13-0-1, 11-0-1)
When: Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5 at 2:05 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center in Madison
Series notes: Minnesota leads the all-time series 19-4-1.
Free admission Sunday: Fans with ticket stubs from either the Friday night or Saturday night men's hockey game versus Minnesota-Duluth can attend Sunday's Wisconsin/Minnesota women's match for free.

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