No. 1 Badgers set to host rival Gophers in women’s hockey: ‘These weekends are the most fun for us’

Wisconsin has outscored opponents by 66 goals this season

Wisconsin Badgers forward Daryl Watts was named the conference’s preseason player of the year in 2020. Photo courtesy of David Stluka

After defending their national title last season, the women’s hockey team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has continued its run of dominance — outscoring opponents by a total of 66 goals so far this year.

The No. 1 Badgers will look to extend their unbeaten streak when they take on their rivals from Minnesota on Friday and Saturday at LaBahn Arena.

“I think we can expect to see a really intense two games. Minnesota is a great team. We’re a great team. This is going to be the first time we’ve played each other this season, so I know we’re super excited. I’m sure they’re very excited,” said senior Daryl Watts.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Watts, who scored the overtime goal that clinched Wisconsin’s most recent national championship, said this is probably the biggest rivalry in women’s hockey.

“I think whenever there’s a Border Battle, the whole college hockey community tunes in,” she said.

She likes to play her best hockey in the biggest games, Watts said. And she’s hoping the team can up its level again this weekend. Badgers senior Brette Pettet watched Wisconsin and Minnesota games on her computer back when she was in boarding school in Minnesota. Minnesota was in town during her official visit to UW-Madison.

“These weekends are the most fun for us, I think,” she said. “Obviously, any game you play you’re going to come out with as much energy and work ethic as you can, but just to have the fans into it on a whole different level and just have this rivalry, it’s something unique.”

The No. 5 Gophers are the strongest opponent the Badgers will see since they won a pair of games against Ohio State in October. During her time in Madison, the team has dominated. But the Badgers are still hungry, Pettet said.

“I think sometimes the losses are a little more influential than the wins,” she said. “You don’t want to have that feeling again, and so playing a big weekend against Minnesota and getting a win against them is one of the best feelings.”

There’s always a lot of skill on the ice when Minnesota comes to Madison, said senior Grace Bowlby. The Minnesota native was a little nervous the first time she played the Gophers, she said. Now Bowlby is team captain.

“I think in terms of telling the younger girls, I think we’ve just got to stick to what we do best,” she said. “We’ve worked hard for this opportunity, and we’re well-prepared.”

It’ll be the first home rivalry game with fans in attendance for many Badgers players, including sophomores Makenna Webster and Casey O’Brien who lead the nation in points this year. They’re trailed by Minnesota’s Taylor Heise.

The Badgers are coming off a bye week, so it’ll be important to create some energy this weekend, said head coach Mark Johnson.

“Obviously, playing at home is going to help us, and hopefully the crowd is going to be into it, and there’s energy there. Then what we do on the ice creates more of it,” he said. “It’s an opportunity that, especially for our older players, they know what it’s about. You don’t get many opportunities like this where you’re playing in front of a full house, you’re going to play against one of your rivals.”

Wisconsin settled for a tie against Bemidji State during a game last month — outscoring the Beavers 8-1 when they met again the following day. Otherwise, the Badgers have won every match this season.

Editor’s note: Diane Bezucha contributed reporting to this article.