The No. 4 Badger men’s hockey team (20-5-1) is back in Madison this Friday and Saturday for a border battle against the No. 9 Minnesota Golden Gophers (15-7-4).
The last time the teams faced off against each other ranked in the top 10 was during the 2005-06 season, when they split the series 2-2. The Badgers got the last laugh, winning the NCAA championship that season — their only NCAA championship this century.
The Badgers are looking to finally close out a regular season series win against the Golden Gophers. Wisconsin lost the series the past two seasons, going 1-3 against the Gophers in 2021-22 and 2022-23. The last time the Badgers won a regular season series against the Golden Gophers was in 2020-21, where they went 3-1.
The Badgers haven’t won all four regular-season games against Minnesota since the 1999-2000 season, before some players on today’s roster were born.
The Badgers swept then-No. 1 Minnesota in their first meetings this season. They come into this weekend’s matchup fairly evenly matched. The Badgers enter the game after a series split against a tough opponent in No. 12 Michigan as the Golden Gophers come in off a series split against the Big Ten leading No. 8 Michigan State Spartans.
Wisconsin has a large home-ice advantage in the series, as Minnesota will play its second series straight away from home.
Fans are already preparing for the notorious rivalry as they prepare to ‘ice out’ the Kohl Center by all wearing white for game one on Friday.
Big Ten standings are closely packed, and the series will be critical for both teams as they fight for standing in their conference and for selection in the NCAA tournament. A Minnesota sweep of Wisconsin would put the Golden Gophers above the Badgers. Alternatively, a Badger sweep of Minnesota would put Wisconsin in contention for first place over the Spartans, all depending on how the Spartans fare against Notre Dame this weekend.
Keys to the game
The Badgers’ highlight this season has been their defense, even if it was notably absent last weekend. They allowed five goals — the most in any single game this season — both nights against Michigan’s powerhouse offense. Wisconsin’s ability to put those games behind them is going to be crucial this weekend.
The Golden Gophers are 10th nationwide in scoring offense and eighth on the powerplay. Whether the Badgers’ defense can keep Minnesota out of the slot and push play against the boards, especially in their defensive zone will be critical to how well they perform this weekend.
The Badgers offense has sparked at times but seldom ignited — though they’re slowly creeping up as the 13th nationwide scoring offense. If they can find that production, Wisconsin may be able to compensate for their recent defense struggles as it did in game two in Michigan, where they came out victorious 6-5.
Puck drop is at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday. The Badgers will stay in Madison the week after to take on the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.