Edit: I didn't want to create a new post for this so I tacked it on to my lineup analysis post. Here is an archived interview from Thursday morning on KFAN in the Twin Cities interviewing Ryan Cardinal who is a writer for the Gopher Puck Live website. Cardinal is one of the few Gopher fans that I respect and his weekly interview on KFAN is always a must listen even if the Gophers aren't playing Wisconsin.
One of the best features that Badger beat writer Andy Baggot brings to the table is providing the fans with the Wednesday practice lines which typically mirror the lineup that head coach Mike Eaves will roll out on Friday night.
The coaches have decided to make a few changes for this weekends series versus Minnesota and with good reason. Offensively, the Badgers have held in tact the Murray-Smith-Zengerle line which has been together and generally effective all season. Eaves has also kept together the Johnson-Dolan-R. Little line which has been surprisingly more offensive than I think anyone would have guessed.
The changes come to the unit that Derek Lee has been centering. In an effort to jump start some production, Eaves has paired freshman wingers Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes together with Lee. Offensively, Barnes and Lee aren't quite where we thought they would be at this stage in the game but obviously both have plenty of ability. I like the idea of pairing those two with a bull like Mersch who we just saw scratch the surface of his potential over the past weekend.
The fourth unit has Jefferson Dahl in his familiar spot at center but now includes Podge Turnbull on a wing along with freshman Jason Clark. Dahl is a very responsible center who is going to take care of his end of the ice and Turnbull has the ability to hit everything that moves and provide energy. Clark is just getting his feet wet and pairing him with a veteran in Turnbull and a responsible center in Dahl is a good way to let him just go out and play hockey.
The biggest changes are coming on the defensive side of the puck. Paired together on the top tandem for the the Badgers is Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz. In Baggots article, Eaves noted that those two playing together on the same power play unit had something to do with it, "but also it gives us a chance to see what they can do 5-on-5.'' Schultz and Gardiner are both elite skaters and puck movers and I'm intrigued to see what they can do while paired together.
The second unit will pair shut down defenders Craig Johnson who has far exceeded expectations in his Badger career and John Ramage. This is a very solid tandem which you can throw out against any line in the country and feel comfortable.
The third unit will feature freshmen Joe Faust and Frankie Simonelli. Baggot asked Eaves if the freshmen would skate at the same time, Eaves said: "Sometimes, not all the time.''
I'm guessing that playing time for the defensemen will shake down into something like 28-30 minutes for Gards and Schultzy, 20-22 minutes for Johnson and Rammer, and 8-10 minutes for Faust and Simonelli. Elite players like Gardiner and Schultz should have no problem playing 28-30 minutes a night at this stage in their careers. They are big time players who need big time ice in big time series.
As usual Scott Gudmandson will start in the nets for the Badgers on Friday night and the coaches will asses the situation and make a decision for Saturday when the time comes. I still strongly favor playing both goaltenders in a rotation until later in the season when one of them forces Eaves hand one way or another.
Jordy Murray-Craig Smith-Mark Zengerle
Patrick Johnson-Sean Dolan-R. Little
Michael Mersch-Derek Lee-Tyler Barnes
Jason Clark-Jefferson Dahl-Podge Turnbull
Jake Gardiner-Justin Schultz
Craig Johnson-John Ramage
Joe Faust-Frankie Simonelli
Photo by Neil Ament
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