A day after his Gophers women's hockey team was elevated to No. 1 in the country by the major pollsters, Brad Frost offered a blunt but reasoned assessment.
"I don't know if this is politically correct, but it really doesn't mean anything,'' Frost said during his weekly video conference. "We were receiving votes for the last few weeks and holding in that No. 2 spot. Our approach doesn't change any going into this weekend.''
This weekend carries added importance to Frost and his players because of the rivalry, not the ranking. The Gophers (8-1) travel to Wisconsin, the team they just supplanted as No. 1, for a Friday-Saturday series against the Badgers. It's a matchup of the blue bloods in women's hockey. Minnesota has seven national championships to its credit, including four with Frost as head coach. Wisconsin, led by Miracle on Ice star Mark Johnson, has hung six national title banners, including the most-recent one, the 2019 crown that the Badgers won with a 2-0 win over the Gophers.
Frost's point on the rankings: It's the No. 1 status secured by NCAA tournament victories in March, not a poll in mid-January, that seals a team's legacy.
"Great honor, but I felt we had been playing well over the last number of weeks even as we were No. 2,'' he said. "It's more for social media and media in general to pick up on. It's a good story, especially with the [Gophers] men being No. 1 as well, but all in all, it doesn't matter.''
While the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will take place in Madison, a team 500 miles to the southeast can make a solid argument that it's right there with the Gophers and the Badgers. Third-ranked Ohio State (5-3) has handed Minnesota its only loss and Wisconsin its two losses. The Buckeyes aren't a one-season fluke, either. They split four games against the Gophers last season, then beat Minnesota in overtime in the WCHA tournament semifinals. The next day, they took down Wisconsin in OT in the final. An NCAA quarterfinal game against the Gophers at Ridder Arena fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Gophers will become quite familiar with both the Badgers and the Buckeyes beginning this weekend through Feb. 13, with two series against each.
"We're going to know a lot more about who we are and what our team is about in the next five weeks,'' Frost said.
The Gophers enter the Wisconsin series on a seven-game winning streak, capped by three wins in four days over St. Cloud State by a combined 10-2 score. The line of Taylor Heise, Abbey Murphy and Emily Oden did the bulk of the damage, combining for six goals and eight assists.
"I was excited to see we could push through three games and show everyone who we are,'' said Heise, a junior who had a hat trick in the finale. "I got some really great passes this weekend. … As a line, we meshed.''
Heise wants to take that momentum into Madison, where the Badgers have won seven of the past eight in the series. She knows the intensity of the rivalry will be palpable.
"It's always the best week, for sure,'' Heise said. "You know on the first day we get on the ice for that week, it's going to be interesting.''