Californians understand border battle

Plenty at stake when Gophers and Badgers drop the puck tonight

As far as rivalries go, they do not get any bigger than Minnesota and Wisconsin, especially on the ice.

But while it is easy to see the impact that the series has on players from the area, to get a true sense of the border battle look no further than Robbie Earl.

The junior from Los Angeles, by way of a few other stops in between, remembers hearing about the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry as a young kid just lacing up his skates.

"I grew up watching college hockey, so [I] knew what the big games were. I knew about it when I was little," Earl said. "But it wasn't such an impact as maybe people from Minnesota or Wisconsin, but I had the gist of it."

Of course, the gist of it just does not cut it once you don the cardinal and white. But three years later, Earl has had plenty of time to figure out what the Minnesota-Wisconsin competition is all about.

"When you become a Badger, you're kind of bred into it," Earl said. "It's my third year and you become passionate about it and every time you play these guys it becomes bigger and bigger."

Fellow Californian Matt Ford had no clue how big the rivalry was until he started high school.

Growing up in California he did not have as much exposure to college hockey. But when he reached high school he enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary's, a prep school in Faribault, Minn., and it did not take long for him to see what was up between the Badgers and Gophers.

"To be honest, before I went to high school in Minnesota I didn't know much about college hockey at all," Ford said. "Not until my sophomore year, when I wanted to start looking at playing Division I college hockey—it wasn't something that I really looked at."

Of course, when the two teams square off this weekend, there will be more on the line than just bragging rights, and Ford and his teammates know that.

"This weekend means a lot more than just four points, more than just a rivalry," Ford said. "We might win the WCHA here this weekend. [There's] a lot of pressure on this weekend. It's a big one."

This weekend will pit two teams that are on different tracks as of late.

Since being swept by Wisconsin the first weekend in December, the Gophers have lost just one time in their last 10 games and have scored 48 goals—giving up just 22—over that span.

The Badgers continued on quite a streak of their own, winning five of their next six games following the two wins over Minnesota. But with the loss of goalie Brian Elliott (knee injury) and a struggle on the offensive end, UW was swept at home by Denver a week ago.

"I think we'll come out and prove a lot of people wrong," Earl said. "I think a lot of people are skeptical of whether we're going to come off a sweep last weekend."

Despite a tough weekend offensively, the Badgers are not planning on putting any extra pressure on themselves in the offensive zone.

"I don't think we have to squeeze our sticks too tight, it's just going to come to us," Ford said. "When they come they're going to come in bunches."

"We're over that, we're actually glad it happened so soon because… we get a fresh start," Earl said.

Earl may be the only Badger who does not need the fresh start. The team's second-leading scorer notched both UW goals a week ago and the quick-skating playmaker will be counted on in the offensive zone this weekend as well.

That role suits him just fine, and Wisconsin fans will be excited to know he thinks last weekend was just the beginning of a streak of his own.

"That's my job, to score goals," Earl said. "I'm going to keep scoring and hopefully I can keep a streak going and we'll see how far we can take this."

What: No. 4 Minnesota (11-5-2 WCHA, 16-6-4 overall) at No. 2 Wisconsin (13-3-2, 18-4-2)
When: Friday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Both games will appear live on FSN North and will be tape-delayed on Wisconsin Public Television. The contests can also be heard live on WIBA-AM 1310.
Series notes: This series is the only series in the WCHA in which the Badgers do not have an all-time winning record. The Gophers lead 142-77-15 all-time and 57-47-10 in Madison. The Badgers swept the Gophers at Minnesota earlier this season and are also 2-1-1 in the last four meetings at the Kohl Center.

Badger Nation Top Stories