We're officially one month into the season and the water is still quite murky. Wisconsin has handled it's business so far in games against inferior opponents, sweeping Alabama-Huntsville and Michigan Tech at home and taking care of Holy Cross in the Ice Breaker. Yet Wisconsin is still looking for a signature win.
The Badgers have faced two tournament caliber teams, Boston University and Denver and have only managed a tie in three contests (yeah we know we got screwed against BU).
This weekend is important for Wisconsin on multiple levels. First, Wisconsin doesn't have a true road win yet in the early season. Holy Cross was on neutral ice in St. Louis. Mariucci is a solid barn to play in and as a player if you can't get up for this series, you don't deserve to wear Wisconsin across your chest.
In last weeks preview, I called out a few names that I felt needed to provide some secondary scoring behind our top line and Sean Dolan. Some of those guys certainly got the message. Michael Mersch had a 3 point Friday night and Podge Turnbull and Patrick Johnson, two guys the Badgers desperately need offense from this season also found the back of the net on Friday. Johnson continued his hot streak on Saturday assisting on 3 Badger goals and Ryan Little chipped in a goal.
I wouldn't be honest with you if I told you I predicted to see Sean Dolan with 8 points in the first 8 games of the season. The kid has taken his captaincy to heart this season and has stepped his game up to another level. Dolan has already surpassed his point total of last season (7) and has a realistic shot at passing his 3 year point total of 26.
I'm happy that Eaves went back to the rotation in nets this weekend. It's important that Brett Bennett stays active and sees shots. Both goaltenders have been very solid for the Badgers this season and we're going to have to rely on them heavily through the next 8 game stretch against some very talented teams.
One of the biggest keys for Wisconsin this weekend is going to be converting on the power play. Minnesota is one of the worst penalty killing teams in the nation with a 78.4 kill rate while the Badgers are third in the country in converting on the peeps at 31.1%. The big ice surface at Mariucci should give our PP specialists like Mark Zengerle and Justin Schultz room to work.
Minnesota comes into this series on a high after crushing Colorado College over the weekend. The Gophers racked up 13 goals over the weekend in the sweep and are still a very talented group despite losing Jordan Shroeder and Nick Leddy to the pros in the off season.
Offensively, senior captain Jay Bariball, back after a medical red shirt leads the charge for the Gophers. Bariball has looked solid this season and has 11 points in 8 games including 8 goals. Jacob Cepis and talented freshman Erik Haula have also been playing at a high level with 10 points a piece. Haula has been centering the Gophers top line all season.
Wisconsin native, and freshman forward Nate Condon from Wausau had a big weekend for Minnesota against CC. His 5 point night Saturday earned him WCHA Rookie of the week honors.
In goal it looks like Minnesota will go with Junior Kent Patterson on Friday and most likely Alex Kangas on Saturday depending on Friday's results. Patterson has much better numbers but by all accounts, the defense has played much better in games that Patterson has started, so it's not all Kangas's fault.
Friday night's game will air on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin. Saturday night's game will be broadcast in HD on the Big Ten Network.
Wisconsin checks in this week at #15 in the USCHO.com poll and are just out of the top 15 in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll. Minnesota is #17 in the USCHO.com poll and are also receiving voted in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll.
Wisconsin looks to be at pretty much full strength. Jordy Murray got banged up Friday but he's a warrior and should be ready. Minnesota has big time injury issues. Freshmen Nick Bjugstad and Jake Parenteau are both going to be out this weekend with mono. Junior forward Nick Larson has also been ruled out for this weekend and Sophomore forward Zach Budish tore his ACL in a moped crash earlier this week and is out for the season.
Very hard series to handicap at this stage in the game. Minnesota is already playing short handed and I think that Wisconsin has the better squad this season. But as last year showed, the best team doesn't always win every time out. I think Minnesota comes out hard on Friday night to defend home ice but gets lazy on Saturday. Split.
Friday Night: Loss, Minnesota 4-Wisconsin 2
Saturday Night: Win, Wisconsin 5-Minnesota 4
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