March 20, 2014
• Wisconsin Notes | Minnesota Notes
HAMDEN, Conn. -- After defeating Harvard 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the 2014 NCAA Tournament last Saturday, the No. 3 Wisconsin women's hockey team will face No. 1 Minnesota in the semifinal round of the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four on Friday in Hamden, Conn.
The Badgers (28-7-2) and the Golden Gophers (37-1-1) have met four times this season, with each match-up resulting in a loss for Wisconsin.
Even though UW trails in the all-time series against Minnesota, 26-39-8, Wisconsin holds a 2-1 record over Minnesota in NCAA postseason games. The Badgers overcame the Gophers 3-0 in the 2006 NCAA championship game to claim the team's fourth national title in program history. UW also defeated Minnesota in the 2008 NCAA quarterfinals, but fell to Minnesota 4-2 in the most recent postseason meeting of the squads, the 2012 NCAA championship contest.
The Badgers and Gophers have been long-time rivals throughout UW's 14-year program history, and this season is no different. Wisconsin's first two losses of the season came at the hands of UM, as UW fell to Minnesota in both contests during a road series in October.
Then No. 4-ranked Wisconsin outshot Minnesota 35-23 in the first contest, but sophomore Erika Sowchuk's first-period goal wasn't enough to stop the Gophers as the Badgers fell 2-1 on Oct. 11. The Gophers then shutout UW 2-0 in the series conclusion the following day.
More recently, the Badgers hosted Minnesota in a two-game series that included the fourth-annual Fill the Bowl game, held at the Kohl Center on Feb. 15.
In the first tilt of the series on Feb. 14, redshirt junior Brittany Ammerman tallied a first-period power play goal to give UW an early 1-0 lead, but Minnesota tallied the only goal of the second period to knot the score with 20 minutes left to play. Junior Blayre Turnbull lit the lamp five minutes into the third period, but the Gophers managed to score twice in the final frame to claim the 3-2 victory.
In the series conclusion, the Badgers and Gophers squared off in front of an NCAA-record crowd of 13,573 fans in the Fill the Bowl game as Minnesota defeated Wisconsin, 4-0.
"I think, especially at this time of season and the meaning of the game, what's happened in the past, you can learn from," UW head coach Mark Johnson said. "You know, three of the four games we've played this year have been tight, have been close. The only one that really got away from us was the game at the Kohl Center on Fill the Bowl night. But you look at the three previous games, we had opportunities. We had chances. We just have to capitalize. We just have to execute a little bit better over the course of the three periods. If you're able to do that, then you put yourself in a position to win irrelevant to what's happened the past four games this season and last year."
But postseason play brings a whole new atmosphere, one that Wisconsin has found success in. The Cardinal and White post a 17-3 record in NCAA tournament games, the best record in NCAA history. This year will be the seventh Frozen Four appearance for the Badgers, who have advanced to the national title game in each of their previous six Frozen Four appearances.
Nationally speaking, Wisconsin enters the postseason with an impressive lineup. The Badgers' power play ranks fourth in the country with a 23.4 conversion rate, while the penalty kill conversion rate of 92.5 ranks third.
Senior goaltender Alex Rigsby sports a .950 save percentage, the second-best nationally, and a 1.17 goals against average that is the country's third best. Rigsby was also selected to the 2013-14 All-WCHA First Team, and recorded her 100th win as a Badger in last weekend's triumph over Harvard.
"It was her last game at home in the LaBahn," Johnson said. "I know it was a special night for her, and certainly, I was happy for her and her family for not only all the things she's done on the ice for us, but some of the things that she has had personally to push herself through and ended up with obviously a big smile on her face at the end of the game and an opportunity to practice this week and get another chance to play a game Friday afternoon."
Minnesota's only loss of the season came at the hands of North Dakota, who skated past the Gophers 3-2 in the conclusion of a November series at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.
The winner of Friday's 4 p.m. (CT) contest will advance to the 2014 NCAA Frozen Four Championship, to be held on March 23 at 2 p.m. (CT).
"I think we'll be confident," Johnson said. "I know the players will be excited. We get time now to prepare to come out and play our best game of the season, and if you do that for 60 minutes or three periods, then you have a chance to play again on Sunday."