Credit: Brianna Kelly
After the original announcement of a Big Ten Hockey Conference, Minnesota Gophers fans have been on the fence about what the new college hockey conference would look like. On Friday, they’ll get their first look, as the Wisconsin Badgers come to Minneapolis for their first match up as Big Ten opponents in a storied rivalry that dates back to 1922.
Currently, the Badgers are just above the .500 mark on the season at 4-3-1, but overall in the bottom half of the conference when it comes to overall record. But that early season mark for Wisconsin, does not mean this weekend will be a cakewalk for Minnesota as the No. 12 ranked Badgers have plenty of fight and bring a strong defensive style of hockey to the table. Their three losses have come against perennial powers Boston College, Boston University, and Miami (Ohio).
As for the Gophers, they’re looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss to the Bulldogs on Sunday, where they gave up a season high six goals. Minnesota hadn’t given up six goal to an opponent since they fell 6-1 to the Boston College Eagles in the 2012 Frozen Four.
The last time the Gophers gave up six goals at home, the Badgers blanked them 6-0 at Mariucci Arena in November of 2010. In that game, the combination of Tyler Barnes, Michael Mersch, and Mark Zengerle were in on scoring all six goals for the Badgers — Mersch with two of them, including the game-winner.
Those three are now the senior leaders upfront for Wisconsin that will look to come in and grab the first set of points available in the Big Ten Conference standings.
Minnesota will need to work on staying out of the penalty box and limiting the special teams opportunities for the Badgers, as Wisconsin is better statistically at killing off penalties and scoring with the man advantage.
The two teams will square off in a two-game series on Friday and Saturday with earlier starts than normal at Mariucci Arena. The first game will be played at 4 p.m. CT while the series finale on Sunday is set for 5 p.m. CT. The games will be split between ESPNU and the Fox Sports North on Friday and Saturday, respectively.