Badgers, Buckeyes Break Into Big Time
There might only be two baseball teams left in this week’s World Series, but the WCHA is no longer a two-team conference.
That much was learned last week as both No. 2 Minnesota (3-1-0) and No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth (3-1-0) fell to conference opponents at their home rinks. Last season, the Gophers and Bulldogs were 4-0 against each of the other five teams in the WCHA.
That changed over the weekend when No. 6 Wisconsin (3-1-0) and No. 10 Ohio State (2-1-0) traveled to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. The Badgers, ranked No. 10 a week ago, handled UMD on Saturday, 4-2, while the Buckeyes, making their first-ever appearance in the Top 10 this week, left Minneapolis with a split after a 4-2 win over Minnesota on Sunday.
Defense appears to be the difference this season for both Wisconsin and Ohio State. Badger goalie Jackie MacMillan stopped 47 Bulldog shots on Saturday and her teammates produced three power-play goals for the win. The Buckeyes got the job done on Sunday by holding the Gophers to just 16 shots on goal.
Ohio State’s blue line has been bolstered by the addition of two internationally-talented rookies, Kelli Halcisak and Emma Laaksonen. In addition to improving the defensive coverage, Halcisak (1g, 5a) is the team’s leading scorer and contributed a goal and two assists in Sunday’s win. Forwards Shana Frost and Corinne Rosen scored Ohio State’s three other goals.
Wisconsin has a blue-line scorer of its own in sophomore Sis Paulsen, who recorded a goal and an assist in Saturday’s victory in Duluth. But Wisconsin benefited from a blend of youth and experience on offense, getting goals from junior Michelle Sikich as well as freshmen Meghan Hunter and Steph Millar. Hunter has five goals in just four games.
It is wise not to overlook the fact that Minnesota and UMD each came away from the weekend with a win, and that they are still the teams to beat in the WCHA. However, it looks like there could be a lot more close games than expected this season out West.
That means one thing for sure: don’t expect this writer’s prediction percentage to be quite as accurate as it was last year (over .700, if I do say so myself).
Friday-Saturday, Oct. 27-28 St. Cloud State at #6 Wisconsin — The Badgers are on a roll, but the Huskies are also much improved. St. Cloud, 3-2; Wisconsin, 4-2 #2 Minnesota at Mankato State — The Gophers won’t settle for a sweep this weekend. Minnesota, 5-1, 6-2 #7 New Hampshire at #10 Ohio State — The jelling Buckeyes have a big advantage at home against a young Wildcat squad playing its first Division I opponent. Ohio State, 3-1, 4-2
Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 28-29 #3 Minnesota-Duluth at Bemidji State — The Bulldogs are starting to explode on offense. UMD, 6-1, 7-2