Men's Hockey: Border battle being played for more than just pride
If there’s one series fans will circle on their calendars months in advance, it’s the annual matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Minnesota Gophers. Through the transition from WCHA to Big Ten hockey, the Border Battle remains just as much of a battle as ever.
The No. 12 Badgers (5-4-1 Big Ten, 14-8-2 overall) last met No. 1 Minnesota (8-0-2 Big Ten, 19-2-5 overall) at Mariucci Arena in November. After being defeated 4-1 in the first matchup, Wisconsin held two leads in the second game before a last-second heartbreaker goal by Minnesota sealed the Badgers’ loss.
This time, Wisconsin will host Minnesota at the Kohl Center, where it has gone 13-2-1 this year. Yet calling home ice an advantage for the Badgers in this series would be a dangerous conclusion to jump to: Minnesota is 6-1-1 on the road and undefeated in the Big Ten.
“Ultimately, it’s a hockey game and fans aren’t going to determine it,” senior forward Michael Mersch said. “Home ice isn’t going to determine who’s going to win the game. It’s going to take a lot of passion and a lot of hard work to win.”
The Badgers are fresh off a winless weekend in Ann Arbor, where Michigan handed Wisconsin two losses, one from a shootout which was recorded as a tie. Two key forwards, senior Tyler Barnes and sophomore Nic Kerdiles, were out of the lineup. Though Barnes will not play against Minnesota, Kerdiles will return to play on a line with senior forward Mark Zengerle and senior forward Sean Little.
The Gophers lost a shootout of their own last weekend against Michigan State, scraping out a 2-2 tie while winning the second game 1-0. Minnesota’s last loss was over three months ago when the UMD Bulldogs walloped the Gophers 6-2.
“[Minnesota] is a good team,” senior forward Jefferson Dahl said. “They’ve been playing well all year and we know it’s going to be a battle.”
Aside from quelling the Gophers’ powerhouse offense, the Badgers will also face the challenge of putting pucks behind sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox, who boasts a .931 save percentage and a 1.96 GAA this season.
“Wilcox is a nice young goaltender and there are a lot of good goalies in this league, but as most people tell you, you can’t stop the puck if you can’t see it,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “We need to get pucks and traffic at the net to at least make his job tougher.”
Both teams have players that crossed the border to play for their home state’s rival. Minnesota’s captain, senior forward Nate Condon, hails from Wausau, Wis. The Badgers have six players from Minnesota, including freshman forward and Plymouth native Grant Besse.
“I think we’re trying to treat it just like any other series,” Besse said. “Obviously there’s an emotional factor with the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry that may come in to it, but we need six points coming out of this weekend in the Big Ten standings.”
The Border Battle begins Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Wisconsin’s first Thursday game of the season. Friday’s game starts at 8 p.m. High attendance is expected at both games as Wisconsin takes on its oldest and fiercest rival.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter