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Badgers women's hockey: Gold standard streak on the line

2013-01-24T04:50:00Z Badgers women's hockey: Gold standard streak on the lineANDY BAGGOT | Wisconsin State Journal | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

Mark Johnson didn't notice the historical elephant in the room until it pulled up a chair, sat down next to the University of Wisconsin women's hockey coach and winked suggestively.

Johnson was in the midst of talking about archrival Minnesota coming to LaBahn Arena for a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series Friday and Sunday. It's a matchup that doesn't require empty hype.

The Gophers are the defending NCAA champions, unseating UW in the process, and have won all 24 games they've played this season in convincing fashion.

Minnesota has been ranked No. 1 unanimously for 16 straight weeks, thanks to an explosive offense and the brilliant goaltending of Noora Raty.

Another name atop the marquee for the Gophers (24-0, 18-0 WCHA) is junior right winger Amanda Kessel, who grew up in Madison and averages a ridiculous 3.09 points per game (34 goals, 37 assists, 71 points in 23 games) as the leading scorer in the country.

Minnesota has the No. 1 offense (5.83 goals per game) and power play (33.9 conversion rate) in the nation. It also has the No. 2 defense (0.79 goals allowed per game) and penalty kill (92.2 success percentage).

Eighth-ranked UW (15-7-2, 11-7-2), second in the WCHA and scrapping for a berth in the NCAA tournament, got a first-hand look at the Gophers en route to 4-1 and 2-0 losses in Minneapolis in early December.

"No, they don't really have a lot of weaknesses," Johnson said. "That's the fun part and the challenge we have at hand."

The elephant in the front row: Minnesota has won 32 straight games dating to last season, which ties the NCAA record for the longest unbeaten streak set by the Badgers in 2007 and tied in 2011.

Johnson said Monday he wasn't aware of that coincidental tidbit until the news conference moderator, Brian Lucas, mentioned it. Johnson smiled.

"The task for us is to obviously look at some video this week, try and figure out some ways that can help us be successful," he said. "Obviously nobody's been able to do that up to this point."

Johnson has had some dominating teams at UW — his NCAA champions in 2006, '07, '09 and '11 had a combined nine losses and 143 wins — but the Gophers seem poised to push that envelope.

They have 12 shutouts this season, nine courtesy of Raty, who played for Finland in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Only two opponents have finished a game within two goals of Minnesota: North Dakota (4-2)on Oct. 28 and the Badgers (2-0) on Dec. 2.

Minnesota, which has lost once in its last 42 games, can zing you in a lot of ways. Kessel has typically teamed with two elite freshmen — left winger Mary Anne Menefee and center Hannah Brandt — to form a line that's accounted for 67 of 140 goals. Meanwhile, All-America Megan Bozek is the top-scoring defenseman in the nation.

But for all their offense, the Gophers "defend equally as well," Johnson said.

For the Badgers to usher the elephant out of the room — to prevent Minnesota from setting a record in their swanky new building at their expense — they need to exploit their strengths. The list includes the No. 3 defense in the nation, the elite goaltending of junior Alex Rigsby, the presence of senior center Brianna Decker — the reigning Patty Kazmaier Award winner — and the last line change as the home team.

Elephants are known for their size and intelligence. This one in particular won't be easy to sway.


Contact Andy Baggot at abaggot@madison.com or 608-252-6175.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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