Ok let's cut right to the chase. The nice 7 game winning streak Wisconsin is on right now is all fine and dandy but winning games against teams who could be confused with Minnesota Junior Hockey League teams isn't something to put your dancing shoes on for.
Wisconsin faces a serious test of how far they have come this season as they travel this weekend to the states northern border where they will take on the fifth ranked Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs who are playing their first full WCHA series in their new barn, Amsoil Arena.
Last weekend Wisconsin broke their ridiculous overtime drought which had spanned multiple seasons in their sweep over Atlantic Hockey foe Canisius.
Sophomore forward Craig Smith had himself a huge weekend for the Badgers en route to being named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week. The Madison native put together 3 goals and 3 assists including 4 points in the 6-5 OT thriller on Saturday night. With his huge weekend, Smith overtook the team scoring lead from defenseman Justin Schultz. Smith now had 31 points (13 goals) in 24 games for the Badgers.
Speaking of Schultz, it was his goal with eight seconds left in overtime on Saturday which ended the painful streak of not being able to win an overtime game. The goal was Schultz's 13th of the season which ties him for the team lead with Jordy Murray and Craig Smith. Schultz's 30 points currently lead the country in scoring for all defensmen. The next highest scoring defenseman has 26.
Badger goaltender Scott Gudmanson was up to his old tricks on Friday night stopping all 18 shots he faced for his fourth shutout of the season. Gudmandson is having an All-WCHA type season with a .933 save percentage and 1.77 GAA. Brett Bennett got the nod on Saturday night but I would venture to guess that we'll see Scotty both nights this weekend.
Minnesota-Duluth has been no stranger to the win column this season either. They are ranked #3 in the current PWR and are coming off a sweep at Clarkson and an exhibition win over the NTDP.
If you remember, and I'm sure you do, Duluth came into the Kohl Center earlier in the season and left with a full four points. Both games went to overtime and the Friday game ended on an extremely controversial no call when Jake Gardiner was clearly tripped leading to a game winning goal by the Bulldogs.
Since the last time we've seen the Bulldogs there has been some changes. The Connolly's and Fontaine are still great and trying to match the Dolan line up with them all weekend is going to be one of the keys to taking road points. The biggest change for Duluth has been the loss of Dylan Olsen who failed out of school and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks. Olsen was playing some great hockey for UMD and no doubt will be missed. Winger Kyle Schmidt will also be out for the series due to a broken hand. Sophomore defenseman Wade Bergman also reportedly missed some practice time this week.
I'm guessing we'll see both goaltenders for the Bulldogs this weekend, similar to when they were in town earlier in the year. Neither one has been playing spectacular hockey this season. It's kind of crazy looking at their stats because they are almost identical in every category from wins to save percentage.
Another interesting scenario could come up this weekend. If you remember correctly, there was an incident after the game when Duluth first came to town between Aaron Crandall (a former Wisconsin recruit) and Mike Eaves in the post game hand shake line. It will be interesting to hear how their interaction will be after this weekends series which should be a battle.
As always a key for this weekend is going to be the success of the special teams. The Badgers are second in the country in power play percentage with a 27.2% success rate and the Bulldogs are 12th with a 21.93% success rate. The Bulldogs have the slight advantage on the penalty kill where they are killing penalties at 83% to Wisconsin's 81%. Duluth is also one of the more dangerous teams in the country converting on short handed goals. They have five this season.
There is no television this weekend that I'm aware of but the games are being webcast on B2Live.com for a fee.
The Badges continue to climb the rankings and this week they are #9 in the USCHO.com poll and #11 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. Minnesota Duluth is #5 in both polls.
Jeffeson Dahl sat out last weekend due to a leg injury and is supposed to be back this weekend. Captain Sean Dolan missed some practice time this week due to a lower leg injury but is also expected to go.
Update: New information has come to light Thursday morning. Apparently Sean Little and Tyler Barnes statuses are both up in the air. Rumors are that Barnes may have a broken hand.
I have no doubt the Badgers are still salty about the way things turned out when Duluth stole 4 points at the Kohl Center earlier in the season. Behind a strong goaltending effort on Friday night I think the Badgers get the victory. Saturday night I see another hard fought game ending in a tie. 3 points should be within reason this weekend.
Friday Night: Wisconsin 4, Minnesota-Duluth 2
Saturday Night: Wisconsin 3, Minnesota-Duluth 3
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