The Wisconsin women’s hockey team (11-2-1) wraps up their regular season this weekend, traveling to face Minnesota-Duluth (10-4) with the WCHA title on the line.
Because of the difficulties faced in playing games this season due to the ongoing pandemic, the WCHA standings, and the subsequent title, is being determined by a team’s points percentage. The Badgers currently sit in first place, leading the second-place Bulldogs .810 percent to .714 percent. Wisconsin only needs to take two points from this weekend to win the Julianne Bye Cup outright, with one point securing a shared title between the teams. This is the second straight year that the Badgers will have the chance to become WCHA regular-season champions in a series in Duluth.
Top-ranked Wisconsin is coming off a series sweep of Bemidji State two weekends ago. The 4-0 and 7-0 shutouts marked the seventh and eighth straight outing for the Badgers without a loss. Wisconsin has outscored their opponents 42-10 over those eight games with four shutouts.
Forward Makenna Webster and defenseman Grace Bowlby both earned WCHA honors following the series against Bemidji State. Webster received WCHA Freshman of the Week after scoring a goal in each game. Bowlby earned WCHA Defenseman of the Week, recording two assists over the weekend.
Earlier this week, forwards Sophie Shirley and Daryl Watts were also named finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, which is given to the top player in Division-1 women's hockey.
Minnesota-Duluth is on a winning streak of their own, having won their last five games to climb their way up to second place in the WCHA standings.
In their last series, the Bulldogs swept Minnesota State, coming from behind in both games to secure all six points. The second of those come-from-behind wins was something special. With the clock ticking down in a 3-3 game, UMD’s Ashton Bell fired a shot toward the net. The Minnesota State goaltender saved the shot, but forward Gabbie Hughes recovered the rebound and fired it into the goal with just three seconds left in the game to win it for the Bulldogs.
It’s easy to assume that this series will be a low-scoring one. Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth come in as the two best teams defensively in the WCHA. The Badgers’ Kennedy Blair and the Bulldogs’ Emma Söderberg top the WCHA in Goals Against Average, Save Percentage and Winning Percentage.
With these low-scoring games, the difference for the Badgers will likely come on the power play. Minnesota-Duluth leads the conference with 7.8 penalty minutes per game. On the other hand, Wisconsin ranks second in the WCHA in power play percentage, converting 15.9% of their power play opportunities this season. The Badgers have been even better on the power play during their recent winning streak. Over their past eight games, Wisconsin has scored on 25% of their power play opportunities, nearly 9% higher than the WCHA-leading mark.
The Badgers need one win or two ties this weekend to become WCHA regular-season champions. Friday’s puck drop is scheduled for 2 p.m. and Saturday’s for 5 p.m. Both games are available to be streamed on FloHockey.com.