Rivalries — a NCAA Women’s Frozen Four preview

Gopher women hockey team
Gopher women hockey team

Two ‘Border Battle’ rivals meet again this week in New Hampshire as the sixth matchup this season between Minnesota and Wisconsin will be for the right to advance to the national championship game.

The Gophers (33-4-1) and the Badgers (35-3-1) will play Friday in the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four semifinals at 6 pm Central time.

It’s a rivalry that is among the nation’s best in women’s hockey. Wisconsin junior forward Sarah Nurse, in her third Frozen Four in as many tries, also looks forward to the ‘Battle’ — “I think every time we play them, it’s an even matchup,” she said of facing 2015 defending champion Minnesota.

“Rivalries develop over time,” explained Laura Halldorson, who led the Gophers to three national championships during her tenure as the program’s first head coach (1997-2007). “It helps when you are geographically close because you get fans traveling, and you get players recruited by both schools…from the other state.”

“It is going to be a good game,” said Minnesota senior forward and Madison, Wisconsin native Amanda Kessel.

Only a goal separate the two clubs after five meetings this season, with Minnesota outscoring Wisconsin 11-10 but the Badgers lead in wins (3-2) after they shutout the Gophers 1-0 two weekends ago.

During her time behind the bench, Halldorson recalls, “When the WCHA first started [in 1999], the big rivalry was UMD and Minnesota. Then Wisconsin got going… When you have a big rivalry, you had to motivate [the players] less. A lot of times you need to bring them down because they get so excited. Coaches feel it, too.

“When you have big games against rivals, people get pumped up — the players do, the coaches do, the fans — that could translate to a lively pregame,” continued the former coach. “I think rivalries [such as U-M and UW] develop when you have teams that both are very successful. So when they play each other, there’s something at stake.”

“There’s nothing better than a Minnesota-Wisconsin game,” said U-M senior forward Hannah Brandt.

With so much at stake, Friday’s Gophers-Badgers NCAA semifinals is much more than a typical Border Battle clash, and is expected to be another close contest.

“Usually when you have a great rivalry, it brings out the best in both teams,” said Halldorson, “That intensity and with a lot at stake, it brings out the best because you are giving 100 percent and there’s a lot on the line.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.