Thursday, January 27, 2011

Michigan Tech Week


Back in the saddle again. The Wisconsin Badgers are in the thick of a 14 game stretch of WCHA opponents and there is no time like the present to put some hay in the barn and rack 4 points.

This weekend's series sees the Badgers travel up to the UP to take on the Huskies of Michigan Tech. The WCHA race is as tight as ever and Wisconsin needs to bank as many points as possible.

The Badgers, who have won 10 of their last 11 games currently sit in fifth place in the conference swept Minnesota State at the Kohl Center last weekend behind two brilliant performances in goal by senior net minder Scott Gudmandson.

Sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz added to his possible Hobey resume with another solid weekend for the Badgers. The West Kelowna, British Columbia native racked up a pair of assists on both nights and now leads the Badgers in points. His 36 points this season are good for fourth in the nation overall, and first amongst all defensemen by 7 points.

Another sophomore having a huge season, Madison native Craig Smith managed to find the net once again this past weekend. Smith's breakaway goal on Saturday night was his 15th of the season (which leads the team) and his 9th in his past 11 games.

Senior Podge Turnbull continues to validate my criticism about why he wasn't in the lineup more last season. Turnbull found the twine once again over the weekend for his 10th goal of the season. Seven of Turnbull's goals have come in the past 10 games. The Badgers are now 9-0 when Turnbull scores a goal.

Smith and Turnbull's streaks have seemingly come at good times since others on the roster have been experiencing scoring droughts. Freshman winger Mark Zengerle has now gone 19 games without scoring a goal, sophomore Derek Lee 18, and Senior captain Sean Dolan has now gone 13.

Arguably the most important performance over the weekend was that of senior goalie Scott Gudmandson who stopped 71 of 74 shots over the weekend en route to the sweep. His big weekend turned heads at the league office and he was named the WCHA defensive player of the week.

Gudmandson is playing the best hockey of his Wisconsin career and undeniably will be Wisconsin's most important player down the stretch. Gudmandson is also making a run at history as his 1.76 GAA and .935 save percentage would both rank second on Wisconsin's all time single season list behind former Badger Brian Elliott in both categories.

One big key for the Badgers this weekend will be getting out on top of Michigan Tech early. The Badgers are 45-0-4 in their last 49 games when leading after two periods. Despite being out shot badly by Duluth and Minnesota State in the third period the past two weekends, the Badgers have been buckled down and won key games, mostly due to the play of Scott Gudmandson.

The Badgers will be without the services of Joe Faust this weekend as he stayed home with a shoulder injury according to Andy Baggot. The Friday night lineup is expected to be the same as the one Wisconsin trotted out on Saturday night vs Minnesota State.

Michigan Tech has been to be brutally honest terrible this season. They haven't won a game in their last 20 contests and have been shut out in their past 3. Back in October when they came to Madison, the Badgers were able to sweep them 5-2, 4-1.

One bonus for the Huskies has been the return of Superior native Brett Olson to the lineup. While he's only recorded one point in four games since returning from injury, Olson is the most potent offensive threat the Huskies posses. Olson led the Huskies in scoring last season as a Sophomore and has 61 career points. As is usual with Wisconsin natives, expect a little extra fire from Olson this weekend as he takes on the Badgers.

The Huskies goaltending this season has been rather putrid. Sophomore Kevin Genoe and junior Josh Robinson remarkably have the same abysmal .888 save percentage this season. Tech has been going with Robinson more lately as the junior has played in 5 of the past 6 games for the Huskies.

I feel like a broken record bringing up special teams every week but as always it's going to be vital for the Badgers to take advantage. Wisconsin currently has the second best power play percentage in the country at 25.69% and Michigan Tech's penalty kill is one of the worst in the country.

COVERAGE

There is no television this weekend but you can catch the Badgers on the radio with play by play man Brian Posick.

POLLS

The Badgers moved up a spot from #9 to #8 in the USCHO.com poll and up two spots from #9 to #7 in the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.

INJURIES

Like I already mentioned Joe Faust is out this weekend due to a shoulder injury. Andy Baggot also noted that Jordy Murray wore a no contact jersey at practice this week but he should be able to give it a go.

PREDICTIONS

I have to be honest, Tech is a terrible hockey team. If Wisconsin doesn't take four points this weekend it's going to be extremely disappointing. When the opportunity for points is there for the taking, the Badgers need to pounce.

Friday: Wisconsin 6, Michigan Tech 2
Saturday: Wisconsin 5, Michigan Tech 1

chuckschwartz(at)live.com
Follow me on Twitter