NOTE: This weekends series versus the University of Massachusetts is being played on Thursday (12/30) and Friday (12/31).
It's been a long two weeks for Badger fans who are chomping at the bit to see the cardinal and white in action. In fact, the Badger hockey had 18 days off in between the Saturday night game against Bemidji on the 11th and Thursdays game against UMass.
It should be interesting to see how the Badgers respond after such an extended break. In a weird scheduling quirk, UMass has only played two games in the past month. They played one game on December 4th, a 5-2 victory over UMass-Lowell, and one game on December 12th, a 4-1 loss at Maine. So both teams are coming off extended breaks.
The Badgers last series against Bemidji State should be looked upon as a stepping stone for the second half of the season. The team didn't play outstanding that weekend but played well enough to take four WCHA points against a scrappy team.
Wisconsin will be without the services of sophomore defenseman John Ramage who is captaining the United States U20 team at the World Junior Championships. In his place, freshman defenseman Joe Faust who has played in 8 games this season jumps back in to the lineup. He will be paired with Craig Johnson. According to Andy Baggot, the pairings of Justin Schultz/Jake Gardiner, and Frankie Simonelli/Eric Springer will remain intact.
Up front there are no surprises since the last time you've seen them play. Podge Turnbull is still centering the unit between Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes. Derek Lee will be a healthy scratch once again. I like Lee but he's not playing up to his capabilities and his game doesn't allow him to play on a lower line. He's either on a scoring line or a scratch. Unfortunately right now he doesn't fit in the lineup.
Scott Gudmandson will be playing in goal on the Thursday night game. I would be SHOCKED if Brett Bennett didn't get the start on Friday night. He hasn't played since November 26th against Michigan, a 4-4 tie.
UMass rolls in to town with a paltry 3-7-3 record and an even worse 0-5-2 record on the road. The Minutemen have played well below expectations all season long however they have been better of late. After starting the season 0-5-3, UMass has gone 4-2-1 over their past 7 contests.
The Minutemen are similar to Wisconsin in that they get a lot of their scoring from the blue line. Wisconsin is first in the country in blue line scoring and UMass is second.
Both games this week will be televised. Both Thursday night and Friday night's games will be broadcast on FSN WI. As usual, the games will be replayed on the Wisconsin Channel at 10 PM.
Wisconsin is ranked #15 in both the USCHO.com poll and the USA Today/USAHockey.com poll.
Wisconsin should be at full strength this weekend.
I'm not going to beat around the bush. Teams like UMASS are teams that we need to handle. A home series against a team who is terrible on the road should equate to wins for the Badgers. Anything less than 3 points would be utterly disappointing.
Thursday: Wisconsin 6, UMass 2; Friday: Wisconsin 4, UMass 2
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