After the dominating showcase the Wisconsin men's hockey team put on display last weekend, it would usually be difficult to imagine how the team could come out with the same intensity again this Friday and Saturday. But with the Border Battle against Minnesota this weekend, the energy level should be higher than ever when the Minnesota Golden Gophers come calling.
The Gophers lead the all-time series with the Badgers 150-81-18, though Wisconsin posted a 2-1-1 advantage last year, including two wins in Minneapolis.
Both teams entered this year with high expectations, and both got off to somewhat slow starts.
Wisconsin started 1-2-1 in conference play and had some trouble playing consistently, while Minnesota opened the season with a four-game winless stretch. However, when the puck drops Friday, each team will have a winning streak to its name.
The Badgers dispatched New Hampshire with a sweep in which they outscored the Huskies 10-2 in their best series performance so far this year. Not to be outdone, the Gophers picked up a WCHA sweep by beating Alaska Anchorage 5-1 Friday and 4-1 Saturday.
The high level of play will only add fuel to the fire in the rivalry.
The Badgers have four players on their roster who hail from Minnesota, and the Gophers have one Wisconsinite. Senior Wisconsin forward Andy Bohmbach grew up in Hudson, Wis., just under 30 miles from Minneapolis, and said the Border Battle is a major motivating factor.
""[The rivalry] is exciting, especially for me,"" Bohmbach said. ""I live around the border, so I've been going to Minnesota and Wisconsin hockey games all my life.""
Junior defenseman Brendan Smith, a Mimico, Ontario, native, did not grow up around the rivalry, but he certainly feels it when the two teams are on the ice against each other.
""It is so loud that I can't even hear my [defensive] partner most of the time,"" Smith said. ""The atmosphere is just unbelievable.""
Smith leads the team in scoring through the first three weekends, tallying 3 goals and 3 assists for a total of 9 points. However, his primary job is to keep the opponent from scoring, a task he says he has put more focus into the last two weeks.
""Defense comes first, and then I can let the other things come,"" Smith said. ""The better I play defensively, the better I play offensively.""
That defense-first attitude will need to continue this weekend for the Badgers to be successful.
They will also look to continue to get consistent play between the pipes. Junior Brett Bennett has been named the starter for Friday night, and it remains to be seen whether head coach Mike Eaves and his staff will continue the budding rotation by starting fellow junior Scott Gudmandson Saturday.
Minnesota will skate the rest of the season without one of its top players, as senior Jay Barriball recently underwent season-ending knee surgery. However, Eaves said he expects the Gophers to come out with even more intensity.
""A wounded animal is a dangerous one,"" he said.