With a 51-game winning streak still intact, the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team will raise their 2013 National Championship banner Friday night at Ridder Arena before their game against Western Collegiate Hockey Association rival, the Wisconsin Badgers.
Minnesota defeated the Badgers on game No. 8 of their current streak, 4-2, to win the 2012 NCAA National Championship. Two championships and numerous records later, the Gophers will get a tough test on the schedule with Wisconsin.
Following the Wisconsin series, Minnesota will go on the road to Minnesota-Duluth and play two against the Bulldogs.
The Badgers, Bulldogs, and Gophers represent the only three schools to win NCAA National Championships in the 13 years that the sport has been sanctioned by the collegiate sports governing body.
Head coach Brad Frost and the Gophers welcome the challenge of playing a team like the Badgers to start their season.
“Anytime you are playing a top team in the country so early on, it’s a good barometer for both teams to see where we are at,” Frost told the media on Tuesday.
Frost and the Gophers are coming off a sweep of the Colgate Raiders in non-conference action on the road last weekend and were led by junior forward Rachael Bona, who recorded four goals and three assists. For her efforts, Bona was named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. Coming into the weekend, she is second in the nation in scoring.
“My past two years, I feel like I’ve been more setting people up, but obviously this past weekend I scored some goals and I hope I can continue to do that,” Bona said on Tuesday. Her role along with many other players on the team has had to change in response to the lineups that won the last two national titles.
Minnesota lost six seniors from last year’s undefeated team as well as Patty Kazmaier Award winner Amanda Kessel and would-be sophomore defender Lee Stecklein to the U.S. Olympic Team.
“We lost eight players from last year’s team and we have seven new freshmen so it’s up to our returners to talk with our young kids about the rivalry and the importance of it,” said Frost.
A “Border Battle” out of the gate for the Gophers will come with its challenges, especially scoring against the league’s Defensive Plater of the Week, Alex Rigsby.
The senior netminder from Delafield, Wis. is a dangerous weapon that has the ability to take over any game. With the graduation of Noora Raty from the Gophers, Rigsby is arguably the best goalie in the nation right now.
Included on the Badgers roster is the only Ms. Hockey Award winner from Minnesota to slip away from Frost’s recruitting since 2008 — junior forward Karley Sylvester. The Warroad, Minn. native scored 23 points for the Badgers as a sophomore, good enough for third place on the team.
Bona as well as teammates Meghan Lorence and Rachel Ramsey were all Top 10 finalists for the Ms. Hockey Award behind Sylvester in 2011.
Face-off for the rivalry series begins at 6:07 p.m. CT on Friday with a 4:07 p.m. puck drop on Saturday. Minnesota will raise their 2013 championship banner in a ceremony before the series opener.
“We will try and do it as respectful as we can and make sure that Wisconsin is not out on the ice watching,” said Frost.
“It’s something that is an incredible experience and something that we will always remember, but once that puck drops it will be all about this year.”