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Badgers set for border battle

first_imgUW junior tri-captain and Minnesota native Ryan McDonagh and the Badgers close out their regular season against the Gophers.[/media-credit]The third-ranked Wisconsin men’s hockey team knows all about the heated historic border rivalry with Minnesota.This year, however, there is an unusual separation between the two powerhouse programs in the WCHA standings as they prepare for this weekend’s series. The Badgers sit in second place, while the Gophers find themselves in seventh.But head coach Mike Eaves and the Badgers made it clear they aren’t about to take Minnesota lightly heading into the final series of the regular season in Minneapolis.“[The Gophers’] record may not be great, but they are going to come into this series ready to go,” Eaves said. “They have a lot of talent. They are playing better now, and I’m pretty sure almost everybody on that team has been drafted.”And after sweeping Colorado College and splitting a series with Minnesota Duluth, the Gophers are starting to raise their level of play, but seeing UM at the bottom of the standings still has UW sophomore Jordy Murray scratching his head.“You look at their record and you look at the players on their team and they should be doing a lot better than they are,” Murray said. “But they have a good squad and they can beat anyone.”Minnesota has the skill to beat anyone and beat the Badgers 5-2 at the Kohl Center in the most recent meeting between these two teams back in November. UW, though, outshot UM 79-46 in the early-season series, ending with two points going to each squad.But according to tri-captain and Arden Hills, Minn. native Ryan McDonagh, you can disregard the standings and previous meetings between these rivals.“It doesn’t matter,” McDonagh said. “They are going to bring their best, and we’re looking forward to it.”For McDonagh and the several other Minnesota-born players on UW’s roster, this weekend is special not only for them, but for their families.“I will have family there that doesn’t get a chance to come down to Madison that much, and it will be fun to play against some old teammates and buddies I’ve grown up playing with,” McDonagh said. “It’s about bragging rights, and we definitely want to be on the winning side of things.”The rivalry between these two programs gets plenty of attention due to the close proximity and the winning tradition of these two schools.But this rivalry goes back all the way back to the youthful days of these players, as many of the current Badgers and Gophers squared off or played together in junior leagues.“Being a Minnesota boy, this is the game you think about playing when you’re younger, and especially once I committed to Wisconsin,” Murray, a Faribault, Minn. native, said. “I have some friends on that team, but when the puck drops, we hate each other.”As Murray said, the reunions will be put on hold once the players hit the ice, and for the first time all season, UW won’t be playing for the WCHA conference crown when the puck drops Friday. Denver took home the MacNaughton Cup as regular season champions last weekend, meaning second-place is the best UW can hope for.“It’s a little disappointing because it was a big goal to win the MacNaughton Cup, and we can’t accomplish that now,” McDonagh said. “But we aren’t done yet and we have a lot left to play for.”That’s putting it lightly, as the Badgers certainly do have plenty to play for. With the WCHA playoffs and NCAA tournament looming, there will be a lot more than a regular-season title at stake in the coming weeks.“We need to get some points,” Eaves said. “We want to stay at least in the top three of the conference, so there is a lot at stake this weekend.”By finishing at least third in the WCHA, the Badgers would guarantee they don’t have to play an extra game if they advance to the Final Five in St. Paul, March 18-20. The five teams that win their playoff series next week will be reseeded 1-5, with the No. 4 and No. 5 teams needing to play in an extra semi-final game before the main semi-finals Friday. The Badgers have already clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.Knowing the MacNaughton cup is in the hands of the Pioneers should light a fire under the Badgers, but Murray insisted the anticipation for this border rivalry should do the trick.“There is such history with this series — just wars on the ice,” Murray said. “We’re excited, and it’s going to be a fun weekend.”last_img

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