Rival Badgers await Minn. in Madison

Minnesota is the No. 1 team in the nation for the first time since 2008.
Minnesota forward Kyle Rau celebrates after scoring Saturday's game winning goal against North Dakota at Mariucci Arena.
By
  • Erin Westover, Daily File Photo
November 10, 2011

The Gophers men’s hockey team will venture to the Kohl Center this weekend to face the Badgers in their fourth WCHA matchup of the season.

This comes on a weekend in which the Vikings travel to Lambeau Field to take on the Packers. Also, the Gophers football team will host Wisconsin at TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota’s men’s hockey team enters its “border battle” as the only Minnesota team favored to win this weekend.

“We’ve talked about it,” head coach Don Lucia said. “We’ve got to uphold our end of the border battle.”

The Gophers are off to their best start since 2001-02, when they started 11-0-2.

On Monday, Minnesota was announced as the new No. 1 team in the nation in the USCHO.com poll.

“It’s a pretty good feeling, but it is November right now — it’s early November,” forward Kyle Rau said. “We have a long way to go and nine wins isn’t going to get us anything.”

Minnesota claimed the No. 1 spot after a series sweep of North Dakota last weekend, and this series against Wisconsin will mark the first time since Nov. 29, 2008, that it takes the ice with that ranking.

The Badgers are 7-4-2 against the No. 1 team in the nation under head coach Mike Eaves and are 6-3-2 at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is 3-4-1 in the WCHA this season.

Regardless, Lucia said it is far too early in the season to be satisfied with this success.

“We’re going to take the ice on Friday night and when the puck’s dropped I don’t think anyone is thinking about where anyone is ranked,” Lucia said.

Minnesota (9-1-0, 6-0-0 WCHA) was 1-1-2 last season against the Badgers, but leads the all-time series 153-84-20.

Wisconsin hosts this weekend’s series fresh off a split with St. Cloud State last weekend — but like the Gophers, have swept the Fighting Sioux this season.

The Badgers defeated then-No. 5 UND on Oct. 21-22 at the Kohl Center.

This will be Minnesota’s third WCHA series on the road this season. The Gophers are 4-0-0 in conference road games.

Forward Nate Condon, a native of Wausau, Wis., grew up playing in the Kohl Center and said he understands the environment the team will face this weekend.

The Kohl Center can seat a capacity of 15,325 and Condon said the Madison student section further intensifies the rivalry feel.

“It’s loud and their student section is crazy,” Condon said. “They’ve got a great student section there and it makes it a lot more fun to play in when we come into town.”

“Especially us — the rivalry there — it’s going to be pretty intense,” he said.

Rau has already come up big in one rivalry series this season, scoring the game-winning goal with 45.8 seconds remaining against UND last weekend at Mariucci Arena.

Rau has eight goals on the season and leads the nation in game-winning goals with four.

“He’s a big player for us this year,” Condon said. “No one thought we would have a freshman come in for us and put up eight goals in the first 10 games. He’s been huge.”

The Gophers will also look to get their power play unit on track after it went just 1-for-14 against UND.

That unit may find solace this weekend as Wisconsin ranks last in the WCHA on the penalty kill and has already allowed 13 power play goals this season.

 “We always want to win when we go to Wisconsin and I don’t think we’ll settle for anything less,” Condon said. “Our goal is to get two wins and that’s what it’s always going to be when you go down there.”

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