Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I See Russia! Alaska Anchorage Week

Well that's more like it. After being swept on back to back weekends at home, the Badgers fought back 3 times to force a tie with eighth ranked Michigan on Friday night and handled Michigan State on Saturday in what seems to be some what of a preview for future conference opponents.

The Badgers just finished a gauntlet of 8 tough games, a stretch that can really bury a team. 5 out of their last 8 games they've played high end ranked opponents, and two games on the road at Mariucci is far from a gimme. They came out of that stretch 2-4-2 but hardly with their tail between their legs. The KRACH ranking has a strength of schedule component and currently Wisconsin has played the second hardest schedule in the country, only behind North Dakota.

While starting the season with the second hardest schedule in the country has led the Badgers to a 7-6-3 record, the positive is that it only gets easier from here. The Badgers go on the road this weekend against Alaska-Anchorage (4-8-2), and then get Bemidji Sate (3-8-1), UMass (2-6-3), and Canisius (6-6-4) all at the Kohl Center over the next month. In an article with Andy Baggot this week, Eaves put it pretty bluntly, "We need to put some hay in the barn here."

As I mentioned in the game recaps on Sunday, our defensemen really stepped to the plate offensively this weekend. Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner were both honored by the league for their exceptional offensive outputs from the blueline over the weekend during the College Hockey Showcase.

However, many Wisconsin fans have become increasingly concerned with the play of Gardiner and Schultz on the other end of the puck. Both players got beat noticeably over the weekend and this isn't a new trend. It makes one wonder if the 35 minutes per night that they are playing might need to be scaled down a hair to give them more of an opportunity to rest and focus on both ends of the rink. The next four weekends should be a great opportunity for Frankie Simonelli and an Eric Springer/Joe Faust to see some extended minutes and possibly get ice time in situations where they haven't been used before.

Shocker, once again Mark Zengerle added three assists this past weekend and he's now up to third in the country in overall scoring. Other Badgers on the list are Justin Schultz (7th), Craig Smith (10th), and Jake Gardiner (10th). Jordy Murray is tied for 7th in the country in goals.

Despite playing the second toughest schedule in the nation, the Badgers remain in the top 10 in both goals per game and goals given up per game. They are fifth in the country in goals scored per game at 3.75 and tenth in the nation in goals given up at 2.31 per night. The Badgers are on pace to finish in the top 5 in the country in goals scored for the second season in a row, making the common myth that they have a boring offense laughable.

One of the biggest attributes to the offensive barrage over the past few seasons has been the output of the power play. The Badgers unit is fourth in the country at 29.3%, converting 24 goals on with the extra attacker. If the Badgers want to make a push for an NCAA tournament berth, they need to continue their success on special teams.

Alaska-Anchorage has split the past three weekends in a row with Bemidji, St. Cloud, and Colorado College, three middle of the road WCHA teams so far this season. Currently the Seawolves are 2-2-2 at home this season in Anchorage.

Anchorage has one of the most spread out offenses I've ever seen. Looking at their stats so far this season, no one stands out but the points are spread out all throughout he roster. Matt Bailey, Tommy Grant, and freshman Jordan Kwas are tied for the team lead with 10 points a piece. Senior Sean Wiles, a Beloit, Wisconsin native is fourth on the team in scoring with 7 points. Wiles is playing on the top line right now with Grant and Kwas.

So far this season Rob Gunderson has gotten the majority of the action between the pipes for Anchorage. He hasn't gotten a lot of help and his stats show it. He's 3-5-1 with a .892 save percentage.

As I already mentioned, this is a good weekend for the Badgers to make some hay. They have traditionally played phenomenal against Anchorage under Mike Eaves including an 11 game unbeaten streak (10-0-1).

According to Andy Baggot, the team is being forced to bus to Minneapolis today and fly out from there due to their flight from Madison to Minneapolis being cancelled. Let's hope this is a good bonding weekend for the team and another step in the right direction this season.

COVERAGE

No live television either night from what I've gathered. Although the Friday night game will be broadcast on tape delay Saturday morning at 11 AM on the NHL Network for those of you who get that.

POLLS

Badgers move up one spot in the USCHO.com poll from #16 to #15. Wisconsin is "also receiving votes" in the USA Today/USAHockey.com poll. Alaska-Anchorage is un-ranked in both polls.

INJURIES

According to Andy Baggot, Gavin Hartzog is the extra forward on the trip this weekend which obviously means he's healthy enough for action. That's certainly good news. No other injuries known at this point.

PREDICTIONS

Badgers have taken care of business this season against teams they are better than. Anchorage classifies as one of those opponents. I'm not trying to sound cocky but this is a series where we need to bring home some points and I think we get it done.

Friday: Wisconsin 6, Alaska-Anchorage 2
Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Alaska-Anchorage 1

chuckschwartz@live.com
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