By Jessi Pierce
A river of separation and a lifetime of rivalry; that's what this weekend is all about for Minnesota Gopher and Wisconsin Badger fans and players alike. It's been a historic battle since the 1969-70 season and continues to be one of the most highly touted match-ups on the ice in the Midwest to date.
While the Badger football team heads to TCF for their chance at Paul Bunyan's Axe on Saturday, the Gopher hockey team will take their chances at the Kohl Center for a weekend series against Wisconsin beginning tonight. The Gophers are coming off a huge weekend sweep over western bordermate North Dakota as Wisconsin looks to bounce back from a tough weekend at St. Cloud State.
Recently ranked No.1 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine College Hockey Polls for the first time since 2008, Minnesota comes in to Madison as the clear favorite holding an edge of 153-84-20 all-time record against the unranked Badgers and a 60-51-13 showing while in Madison.
While the Gophers are coming in hot, the team knows you can never underestimate Wisconsin. The Badgers bring with them a slew of underclassman this year all with extreme talent. Between the pipes rookie netminders Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel have been splitting time for Wisconsin and goaltending for both teams should be the difference maker this weekend folks.
Kent Patterson has been unreal in net so far this year for Minnesota. With five shutouts on the season and a 9-1-0 record beneath him, Patterson holds a 1.60 goals against average and a .942 save percentage. The Badgers will need to do what many other opposing teams have failed to and that is find a way past Patterson.
Breaking it down both teams are fairly young with outstanding rookie classes but Patterson has kept the Gophers one step ahead of every other team so far this season. 14 different players have tallied goals for the Badgers this season so who to look for on scoring is a toss-up although I'd keep an eye on All-American junior defenseman and last year's leading scorer for Wisconsin, Justin Schultz, along with its top line of Mark Zengerle, Tyler Barnes and Joseph LaBate (Barnes and Zengerle have combined for nine goals and 24 assists on the season).
For Minnesota Kyle Rau has been proving why he was named Minnesota's Mr. Hockey in 2010-11. With eight goals on the season Rau scored last weekend's game winner against the Sioux and has shown unparrallel skills for a rookie. Rau's not the only one lighting the lamp with Minnesota outscoring its opponents 48-16 so far this season. Be on the lookout for Erik Haula (currently leading the nation with 17 points) and Zach Buddish to be swarming the net as well.
Ultimately--in my humble opinion-- it will come down to who notches the first goal. With the fierce rivalry of this series whoever can get the momentum going in their direction first should come out on top.
I will be tweeting LIVE during the game so don't forget to follow @B1Gicehockey for some more insight on the series. Let the border battle begin!