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Wisconsin, Minnesota hockey series carry huge implications for women's and men's teams
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Wisconsin, Minnesota hockey series carry huge implications for women's and men's teams

Badgers vs. Minnesota

Badgers' Linus Weissbach stumbles while skating around Minnesota defenseman Matt Staudacher in a Jan. 9 game at LaBahn Arena.

Two sets of rivals will go face to face in side-by-side arenas Friday and Saturday by the fates of separate scheduling procedures in an unusual season.

Their places in the standings perhaps make it the biggest weekend of the regular season for the men's and women's hockey teams from the University of Wisconsin when they play at Minnesota.

The top-ranked Badgers women will try to solidify their grip on first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association against the second-place and second-ranked Golden Gophers at Ridder Arena.

The 11th-ranked Badgers men have a chance to wrestle away the top spot in the Big Ten standings from No. 2 Minnesota a few hundred feet away at 3M Arena at Mariucci.

It could be the last good chance for the chasing teams to catch up in the races for conference championships.

"It's set up to be a real exciting series that all of college hockey will keep an eye on to see how it's played and who comes out on top," Badgers men's coach Tony Granato said in a reference to his team's games that also applies to the women's games. "Minnesota, Wisconsin — drop the puck and let's play."

This is scheduled to be the sixth time in the 22nd season with a Border Battle series in both men's and women's hockey that they've both played in the same city on the same weekend. The most recent was Nov. 5 and 6, 2010, in Minneapolis, when the UW men's team won its series with a win and a tie and the women's games were split.

University of Wisconsin men's hockey coach Tony Granato meets with the media on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Video courtesy UW Athletics.

None of the previous meetings has taken place with first place on the line in both series.

The Badgers men are starting their toughest stretch of the season, with series at Minnesota and at No. 7 Michigan scheduled in the next two weeks.

The Gophers lead the second-place Badgers by five points with 10 games remaining, so UW needs to win both games in regulation to come out of the weekend atop the standings. The teams split a series in Madison last month.

In the bigger picture, the Badgers' aspirations for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament probably have a lot to do with the results of the next two series even though the selection process hasn't been specified. Wins against the two other likely contenders out of the Big Ten would be valuable; multiple losses would inflict damage.

Granato said he doesn't want to get caught up in looking at a four-game stretch as opposed to the next game on the schedule.

"The four games that we played in our building against these two teams were great college hockey," he said. "It's what college hockey's supposed to be. And I think these four will be the same."

Nobody's questioning whether the Badgers and Gophers will be part of the women's hockey NCAA tournament field next month. Meetings between the teams in the last month of the regular season typically have been about determining the WCHA champion.

This one is no different even though the math has been altered. Pandemic-related game cancellations created an unbalanced schedule for WCHA teams, so the league is sorting the standings by points percentage.

University of Wisconsin women's hockey coach Mark Johnson meets with the media on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Video courtesy UW Athletics.

UW leads at .833. Minnesota is at .692. The Gophers need two regulation wins against the Badgers to go to the top with four league games remaining for both.

"At the end of the day, you want to get yourself in position so that you're playing well the middle part of this month," said Badgers coach Mark Johnson, whose team swept Minnesota at home 5-0 and 6-3 in January. "As we approach February ... it's good to play against each other. We get a feel of where we are as we enter February."

Watts honored

UW senior Daryl Watts was named the WCHA's forward of the month for January, when she led women's hockey with 10 goals and 18 points in eight games.

Watts scored in seven of eight Badgers games in January with a hat trick and three assists at St. Cloud State on Jan. 22.

Slap shots

The game misconduct to UW's Ryder Donovan for checking from behind in the first period of last Saturday's game against Michigan State was the sophomore forward's second of the season. Each additional one he gets brings an automatic one-game suspension. ... UW's No. 11 ranking in Monday's Division I men's poll was its highest of the season.

Former Badgers men's hockey players in the NHL in the 2021 season

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