For Alex Woken and her teammates on the Gophers women’s hockey team, last Sunday arrived with a little more edge.
“In our group message that was sent out, someone said, ‘Border Battle Week, guys. Let’s get ready,’ ” said Woken, a senior forward. “It’s always an exciting weekend.”
The Border Battle — Gophers vs. Wisconsin on Saturday and Sunday at Ridder Arena — is more than just a rivalry of neighbors. It’s No. 1 vs. No. 2, defending national champs vs. reigning runners-up, the top two programs in women’s college hockey meeting for the first of four times at least this season.
The top-ranked Badgers, who defeated the Gophers 2-0 for the NCAA title in March, have dominated their competition so far, assembling a 10-0 record by outscoring opponents by a combined 60-9. Minnesota, meanwhile, rolled to an 8-0 start, then fell 4-3 at No. 8 Ohio State last Friday before recovering to win the series finale 4-2.
The experience the Gophers gained in Columbus should help this weekend, coach Brad Frost said.
“Ohio State was probably the best team that we’ve played so far,” he said. “They’re fast and aggressive on the puck, similar to what Wisconsin has been known to be.”
In Wisconsin, the Gophers will face a roster overflowing with talent. The Badgers already had returning standouts in forwards Abby Roque (11 goals, 32 assists, 43 points last season) and Sophie Shirley (20-18-38), and goalie Kristen Campbell (35 wins, 1.03 goals-against average, 11 shutouts).
But they also added junior forward Daryl Watts, a transfer from Boston College who had 82 points as a freshman in 2017-18 and earned the Patty Kazmaier Award as the nation’s top player. This season, Watts leads the nation with 28 points on nine goals and 19 assists.
“She’s brought a lot of offensive punch for them,” Frost said. “To add a player like Daryl … she’s another person you have to keep account of.”
Frost expects a typical Wisconsin team — fast, talented and determined.
“They play a very consistent brand of hockey,” he said. “They’ve got real good speed, their ‘D’ are very aggressive, they’ve got some difference-makers up front. They haven’t changed a whole lot over the years.”
The Gophers and Badgers split four regular-season games last season, which enabled Minnesota to win the WCHA regular-season title before the Gophers fell to Wisconsin in the conference tournament final. Pressuring Campbell is the key, Frost indicated.
“One thing Wisconsin does well is they make it hard to get to their net,” he said. “We’ll have to take her eyes away a bit and get to those dirty areas.”
A tough task but not impossible. And Frost isn’t about to cede anything to the Gophers’ top rival.
“We know they’re very good,” he said. “We think we’re very good, too.’’