Border Battle comes with playoff implications for Minnesota, Wisconsin

This weekend, Minnesota and Wisconsin face off for the second go around this season in the Border Battle. When the two teams played at Mariucci Arena back in early November, Wisconsin came out on top, taking three points from the Gophers, winning on Friday and tying on Saturday.

The teams take to the ice at the Kohl Center on Friday in a series that is important this time around not only for the usual reasons (the rivalry, bragging rights, etc.), but for possible playoff implications.

Wisconsin celebrates Jake Gardiner's goal during the first period. No. 16 UNO beat No. 7 Wisconsin 4-3 Saturday night at Qwest Center Omaha. (Photo by Michelle Bishop) (Michelle Bishop)
Wisconsin enters the Border Battle after being swept at Nebraska-Omaha last weekend (photo: Michelle Bishop).

Both squads are deeply mired in the race for home ice. The Badgers, with 24 points, have it while the Gophers, just three points down, do not.

“Seven points are the difference between fifth and 11th place, so you can head up in the standings, and you can go down in a hurry based on what happens on a given weekend,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said on his weekly radio show.

As a result, both teams know that this time of year means that the playoffs have essentially started early.

“There is so little difference between teams,” said Lucia. “A couple of players can put you over the top. And a goaltender playing well is really the difference right now. It is going to be a battle. Wisconsin has got us, they have to go to St. Cloud and finish with CC. People are going to be beating up on each other here at the end of the year.

“Like I told our guys, ‘Our playoffs have started.'”

“We said the same words last weekend and we’re going to be saying the same words next weekend, talk about the position and where we’re at and the importance of it,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said at his weekly news conference. “And that’s what makes the league so fun. And now that the smoke has cleared, you can see how things are forming together.

“We’re playing the Gophers, who are a very talented team. And they have the potential — they spanked Denver on Saturday night here. So they’re going to have some confidence coming in. And both teams want points, both teams want to be playing well this time of year, so this could be a great building to be in Friday and Saturday night, I can tell you that right now. It will be a lot of fun.”

Fun in a building that was recently named the “most intimidating” in college hockey by the Wall Street Journal, even if Eaves has a hard time agreeing with it.

“Well, not being the opposition in this building, it’s hard for me to say, I think,” he said. “It’s something that I’m used to. I can only project what others might feel coming in there if they’ve never been here, with the band and the students down on one end. I think one of two things happen. I think A, you can get intimidated or B, you just enjoy the hell out of the experience and you play over your head. We’ve seen both happen here at the Kohl Center.

“But again, I’m just projecting.”

According to Lucia, he thinks for his team, it’s option B above.

“I like the support [the Badgers] get. The fans get on you but there is nothing — there is no swearing. It is not abusive. They just have a good time at the game so it is a fun environment to play in,” said Lucia. “Another Big Ten opponent. And I am sure the game will be sold out this weekend, so it will be a lot of fun.”

Matchups by the numbers

No. 18 Colorado College at Bemidji State

Records: CC — 17-14-1 (11-11-0 WCHA). BSU — 11-14-3 (7-12-3 WCHA).

Head-to-head: CC leads the overall series, 3-1.

Last meeting: CC won, 5-4, on Jan. 18. 2008.

Special teams: CC — 20.9 percent PP (13th in nation), 83.0 percent PK (t-24th in nation). BSU — 18.8 percent PP (23rd in nation), 83.2 percent PK (22nd in nation).

Streaks: CC — one-game winning. BSU — three game unbeaten.

Goaltending: CC — Joe Howe (13-12-1, 3.01 GAA, .901 save percentage). BSU — Dan Bakala (10-9-2, 2.10 GAA, .928 save percentage).

Leading scorer: CC — Tyler Johnson (17-16–33). BSU — Jordan George (13-16–29).

Michigan Tech at No. 4 Denver

Records: DU — 18-7-5 (14-5-3 WCHA). MTU — 3-23-4 (1-19-2 WCHA).

Head-to-head: DU leads the overall series, 115-82-18.

Last meeting: DU swept in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, March 12-13, 2010: DU 2, MTU 1; DU 4, MTU 2.

Special teams: MTU — 18.0 percent PP (27th in nation), 76.1 percent PK (55th in nation). DU — 20.0 percent PP (17th in nation), 85.4 percent PK (10th in nation).

Streaks: DU — one-game losing. MTU — 26-game winless.

Goaltending: DU — Sam Brittain (13-5-5, 2.23 GAA, .923 save percentage). MTU — Kevin Genoe (2-13-2, 3.60 GAA, .893 save percentage).

Leading scorer: DU — Drew Shore (17-17–34). MTU — Milos Gordic (13-6–19).

No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth at Minnesota State

Records: UMD — 18-6-5 (13-5-4 WCHA). MSU — 13-13-6 (7-13-4 WCHA).

Head-to-head: UMD leads the overall series, 18-12-5.

Last meeting: UMD swept on Jan. 15-16, 2010: UMD 2, MSU 1; UMD 4, MSU 3.

Special teams: UMD — 20.6 percent PP (14th in nation), 83.0 percent PK (t-24th in nation). MSU — 14.8 percent PP (46th in nation), 82.7 percent PK (27th in nation).

Streaks: UMD — two-game winless. MSU — one-game losing.

Goaltending: UMD — Kenny Reiter (9-4-4, 2.36 GAA, .910 save percentage). MSU — Phil Cook (10-10-4, 2.91 GAA, .907 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UMD — Jack Connolly (12-30–42). MSU — Michael Dorr (12-13–25).

Notes: Based on his performance last weekend, MSU goaltender Austin Lee (3-3-2, 2.53 GAA, .909 save percentage) may see action.

No. 2 North Dakota at St. Cloud State

Records: UND — 21-8-2 (16-6-0 WCHA). SCSU — 12-14-4 (8-11-3 WCHA).

Head-to-head: UND leads the overall series, 54-28-10.

Last meeting: UND swept on Dec. 3-4, 2010: UND 3, SCSU 1; UND 6, SCSU 2.

Special teams: UND — 19.8 percent PP (19th in nation), 85.1 percent PK (13th in nation). SCSU — 16.8 percent PP (36th in nation), 83.3 percent PK (t-20th in nation).

Streaks: UND — three-game winning. SCSU — two-game unbeaten.

Goaltending: UND — Aaron Dell (20-6-1, 1.99 GAA, .920 save percentage). SCSU — Mike Lee (10-10-3, .283 GAA, .905 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UND — Matt Frattin (22-13–35). SCSU — Drew LeBlanc (12-23–35).

Notes: UND’s Jason Gregoire was the league’s offensive player of the week last week while SCSU’s Nick Jensen was co-rookie of the week.

No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha at Alaska-Anchorage

Records: UNO — 18-10-2 (14-6-2 WCHA). SCSU — 12-14-4 (8-11-3 WCHA).

Head-to-head: The overall series is tied, 0-0-1.

Last meeting: The teams tied the only time they met, Oct. 14, 2006: UAA 2, UNO 2.

Special teams: UNO — 19.8 percent PP (18th in nation), 84.0 percent PK (17th in nation). UAA — 14.8 percent PP (47th in nation), 81.6 percent PK (30th in nation).

Streaks: UNO — four-game winning. UAA — two-game losing.

Goaltending: UNO — John Faulkner (17-9-2, 2.43 GAA, .913 save percentage). UAA — Rob Gunderson (6-11-2, 2.74 GAA, .899 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UNO — Joey Martin (9-22–31). UAA — Tommy Grant (10-13–23).

Notes: UNO’s John Faulkner was the league’s defensive player of the week and Johnnie Searfoss was co-rookie of the week.

Minnesota at No. 12 Wisconsin

Records: UM — 12-12-4 (9-10-3 WCHA). UW — 19-10-3 (11-9-2 WCHA).

Head-to-head: UM leads the overall series, 152-84-19.

Last meeting: UW took three points on Nov. 5-6, 2010: UW 6, UM 0; UW 3, UM 3.

Special teams: UM — 19.3 percent PP (20th in nation), 75.2 percent PK (56th in nation). UW — 23.9 percent PP (4th in nation), 81.6 percent PK (31st in nation).

Streaks: UM — one-game winning. UW — two-game losing.

Goaltending: UM — Kent Patterson (10-7-4, 2.54 GAA, .918 save percentage). UW — Scott Gudmandson (14-8-1, 1.93 GAA, .930 save percentage).

Leading scorer: UM — Jay Barriball (12-11–23) and Jacob Cepis (8-15–23). UW — Justin Schultz (15-26–41).

Notes: UW currently has a 9-0-1 unbeaten streak at home, the second longest in the WCHA. … UW has not swept the Gophers in Madison with Eaves as coach.

Of awards and accolades

We’ve got some awards and nominations that haven’t been mentioned the past few weeks, so I thought I’d quickly do that here.

Last week, the league announced its annual list of scholar-athletes. 53 total players from the men’s side earned the honor with league newcomer Bemidji State leading the way with 11 players and Wisconsin bringing up the rear with no one. Wisconsin having no players is a drop from last year while Minnesota, last year’s zero team, now has three. The numerical breakdown:

BSU: 11
UMD: 4
UW: 0

A few weeks ago, the finalists for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School) were announced and two WCHAers made the cut as finalists — BSU’s Matt Read and UND’s Chay Genoway.