Another week, another WCHA series. This week brings the 10-9-5 Minnesota State (or whatever they are being called now) Mavericks into Madison to take on the 15-8-3 Wisconsin Badgers.
Last weekend saw the Badgers with their backs up against the wall battling the flu bug and a 2-0 loss on Friday night but they were able to battle back and win a crucial Saturday night game against #5 Minnesota-Duluth in their new barn.
Sophomore Justin Schultz despite battling the flu this weekend was up to his old tricks getting the Badgers an early lead on Saturday night. As Andy Baggot points out this week, Schultz has a great chance to make Wisconsin history this season. His 14 goals are tied for first on the team, and no UW defenseman has ever led the club in goals. Additionally the UW record for goals in a season by a defenseman was set at 19 by former Badger Sean Hill. Schultz will have no less than 14 games to accomplish that feat.
Senior center Podge Turnbull who has been very effective since being inserted on a line with freshmen wingers Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes found the net once again for his 9th goal this season. Turnbull has now scored 6 goals in his last 8 games and the Badgers are a ridiculous 8-0 in games where Podge finds the twine.
Wisconsin leading scorer and Sophomore alternate captain Craig Smith wasn't held quiet last weekend either. His second period power play goal on Saturday night turned out to be the eventual game winner for the Badgers. Smith's 33 points this season put him in a three way tie for third in the country in scoring behind the Miami duo of Carter Camper and Andy Miele.
Junior defenseman Jake Gardiner who has seemingly flew under the radar this season with the huge season of teammate and defensive partner Justin Schultz added a couple of helpers in the win on Saturday as well. Gardiners 26 points are third in the country amongst all defensemen behind only Schultz and Robert Morris defenseman Denny Urban.
Wisconsin's #1 net minder Scott Gudmandson once again found himself between the pipes on both nights for the cardinal and white. Scotty played solid both nights, something that the fans and the team have come to expect out of the gritty senior. Gudmandson is now second in the country in GAA and fourth in the country in Save Percentage.
Minnesota State comes into the Kohl Center after playing excellent hockey last weekend in Denver. The Mavericks played forced overtime on the Pioneers on back to back nights but only managed to escape with 1 point. A late goal with an extra attacker on Friday night by Denver's Kyle Ostrow forced OT and there would be no scoring in the extra session. Saturday night Minnesota State would come out firing with 3 goals to open the game but Denver would respond with 4 unanswered, including one in OT to grab the 3 point weekend.
Despite only being 4-9-3 in WCHA action, the Maverick have been playing much better hockey since the break. Besides the already mentioned weekend at Denver, Minnesota State swept American International and won the Shillelagh Tournament at Note Dame beating the Irish and Brown on back to back nights.
The Mavericks feature a pair of defenseman that would be solid for any team in the WCHA with Kurt Davis and Ben Youds. Both are playing at an all-conference level. Davis, a senior from Plymouth, Minnesota leads the Mav's in scoring with 19 points. Youds, a former Shattuck St. Mary's teammate of Badger Jordy Murray has chipped in 15 points of his own.
Offensively the Mavericks are led by former Minnesota Gopher Michael change of heart Dorr. The junior forward from Roseville, Mn originally committed to Minnesota-Duluth but reneged on that verbal when he got a better offer from the Gophers. After not seeing the playing time he thought he deserved with the maroon and gold, Dorr fled to Mankato.
In goal expect to see Sophomore Phil Cook this weekend. The Wheaton, Illinois native has played the majority of the minutes for Minnesota State this season and has put up average numbers so far. Cook brings in a 8-8-3 record with a .908 save percentage and a 3.01 GAA.
As always special teams will be big for who comes out with points this weekend. The Badgers are ranked #3 in the country in PP conversions and the Mavericks aren't ranked in the top 40. The Badgers must take advantage of this if they want to have success. Phil Cook doesn't have the greatest numbers in the league but I saw him absolutely stand on his head in a weekend sweep over Minnesota this fall. Cook has the ability to win games for his club.
UWBadgers.com is listing the game on the Wisconsin Channel live on Friday night and WISC-TV on Saturday night with both games being tape delayed later that night.
The Badgers stayed at #9 in the USCHO.com poll and moved up to #9 from #11 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. Minnesota State was also receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll.
As we found out last week, Sean Little and Tyler Barnes were banged up although Barnes played in both games and Little played on Saturday night. Jefferson Dahl who had missed some time played in both games as well. Yesterday we found out from Andy Baggot that Michael Mersch took a puck off the foot and was in a walking boot coming out of the rink and that Sean Dolan re-aggravated an ankle injury. Both of their statuses for the weekend are unknown at this point.
Update: Andy Baggot just tweeted the Mersch and Dolan were both at practice today and looked good so thats a positive sign.
Update 2: It looks like Frankie Simonelli might not be available this weekend as he's home in Illinois tending to some family issues according to Baggot.
Minnesota State is a solid hockey club and I love their top defenseman and goalie Phil Cook. Unfortunately I see them coming in and sneaking out a victory from us on Friday night. We've got a lot of guys nursing different injuries and I'm afraid we're going to fall asleep one of the nights this weekend.
Friday: Wisconsin 2, Minnesota State 3
Saturday: Wisconsin 5, Minnesota Sate 2
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