This Friday and Saturday, No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team (9-5 Big Ten, 11-7 overall) will travel to Minneapolis and take on the No. 2 Minnesota Golden Gophers (11-3 Big Ten, 15-3 overall) in a Border Battle that has the potential to change the entire race of the Big Ten hockey standings.
Coincidentally, the No. 1 ranked Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team will also travel to Minneapolis and take on the No. 2 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers on Friday and Saturday. Both matchups will occur within a few hundred feet, with the men’s hockey Border Battle taking place in 3M Arena in Mariucci and the women’s at Ridder Arena.
In both instances, this may be the last time for the trailing team to capture the top spot in the conference standings as the season winds closer to its end.
For the men’s team, it is clear that this is one of the biggest series of the season so far, not only for Wisconsin and Minnesota, but for the Big Ten and the entire sport.
When discussing the big-time matchup, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach Tony Granato recognized the enormous implications of the series.
"It's set up to be a real exciting series that all of college hockey will keep an eye on to see how it's played and who comes out on top,” Granato said. "Minnesota, Wisconsin, drop the puck and let's play."
For the Badgers, this season might already have been cemented as the best under Granato’s tenure as head coach. On both ends of the ice, Granato’s Badgers are humming. With Cameron Rowe and Robbie Beydoun at goalie, Wisconsin has been extraordinary at preventing opponent’s scores. Wisconsin’s season save percentage is .918 on the season, which ranks fourth in the conference.
However, since the season break, Wisconsin’s save percentage is number one in the conference as Rowe has seen the ice more in recent series for the Badgers. Rowe’s save percentage is .946 this season, behind in the conference to only Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine.
Offensively, there may not be a better team in the entire conference than the Wisconsin Badgers. Led by perhaps the best skater in the country Cole Caufield, Wisconsin has been incredibly efficient on the ice this season, especially in power plays where the Badgers score better than any other team in the nation at 28.1%.
Caufield leads the nation in total points, is fourth in points per game — behind Wisconsin’s Dylan Holloway, who ranks third — and is atop the conference in most major scoring categories.
Combined with the scoring prowess of Dylan Holloway and Linus Weissbach, there might not be a better offensive team in the country. This is something that looms heavily over the upcoming matchup with the Gophers, who are perhaps the best defensive team in the conference.
The Gophers are first in the country in save percentage at an insane .938 and rank first in penalty kill efficiency. Led by goalie Jack LaFontaine, this will be an enormous test for Wisconsin’s offense which has been putting up great numbers since getting the roster back to full strength a few weeks ago.
The Badgers split the earlier matchup with the Gophers in January when Wisconsin ended Minnesota’s historic winning streak. The Badgers will be looking to get another win against the Gophers in order to have a shot at the Big Ten conference title.
You can catch the series on February 5th and 6th on Fox Sports Wisconsin and at 1310 WIBA.