Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nebraska-Omaha Week

After a much needed week off, the boys are back in action on the road at Nebraska-Omaha for their first ever WCHA series against the Mavericks.

The bye week was huge for the Badgers as many players are nursing injuries so it was key to rest up and get healthy. The team even found time to have a little fun over the break, hosting skills competition last week.

The Badgers last weekend of hockey, two weeks ago at Michigan Tech saw them come away with 4 points. Friday nights game was a bit of an underwhelming performance but the boys bounced back on Saturday and looked impressive.

This is a huge WCHA series for both schools as they are within 2 points of each other in the standings. Currently UNO sits in 4th place with 26 points while the Badgers are holding down 5th place in the 12 team league with 24 points. Denver and Minnesota-Duluth currently are tied for the league lead with 29.

Another three point weekend two weeks ago has Wisconsin sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz leading the team in scoring. It's the fourth straight weekend that Schultz has recorded a multi point weekend. Schultz has yet to go a weekend this year without recording a point.

The series at Michigan Tech brought the end to a few scoring droughts. Freshman winger Mark Zengerle, who had gone 19 games without scoring a goal found the back of the net in both games against the Huskies. Zengerle who has 32 points in 30 games for the Badgers this season is third in the country in freshman scoring behind the Notre Dame pair of TJ Tynan and Anders Lee.

Sean Dolan (14 games), Tyler Barnes (15 games), and Patrick Johnson (8 games) all broke lengthy scoring slumps in Houghton. Johnson in fact had one of his best games as a Badger registering 3 points in the Saturday night game.

Goaltender Scott Gudmandson now finds himself in rare territory. The senior netminder from Sherwood Park, Alberta is leading the country in both major goaltending categories. His 1.77 GAA and .935 Save percentage both lead the nation. He's come a long way in his four year career at Wisconsin.

The Badgers, who have won 12 of their last 13 games aren't the only team playing well. Last weekend the Mavericks were able to sweep an underachieving St. Cloud State team at home, despite trailing by 3 goals on Saturday night.

The Mavericks, coached by WCHA legend Dean Blais boast one of the deeper offenses in the conference. UNO gets consistent scoring from three different lines and it shows as nine forwards all have registered at least 10 points and 8 of them at least 16.

Nebraska-Omaha has recently been running out a top line of seniors Rich Purslow, leading scorer Joey Martin, and talented freshman Matt White. But they have little drop off behind the top unit. Matt Ambroz, another senior and leading goal scorer is actually on the second unit centered by Alex Hudson.

The Mavericks will try and match up lines this weekend with the Badgers. Last weekend they used freshman forward Brock Montpetit, a one time Badger committed recruit to match up with St. Cloud forward Garrett Roe.

Montpetit is downplaying his decommitment to Wisconsin in the Omaha papers this week but you can tell he's excited. It will be interesting to see Montpetits former line mate at Shattuck St. Marys, Jordy Murray is a little more physical this weekend at the Qwest Center.

The key for UNO is certainly going to be the play of goaltender John Faulkner. I had a chance to see him earlier in the year and he's a treat to watch. He currently has a solid .911 save percentage and 2.47 GAA. If Faulkner gets hot the Badgers could be in trouble.

The Badgers special teams have not been playing as well lately. They have dropped to 4th in the country in PP % and 33rd in the country on the PK. UNO is 18th in the nation in PP % and 16th on the kill.

COVERAGE

Friday nights game is being televised by the Wisconsin Channel which is a new change of pace but awesome. It can also be streamed for free online on the WPT website. The Saturday night game is on web cast only for a fee on B2Live.

POLLS

The idle Badgers stayed at 7th in both polls this week. Nebraska-Omaha is 16th in the USCHO.com poll and "also receiving votes" in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll.

INJURIES

The Badgers are banged up but who isn't? Joe Faust has been out with his shoulder but was supposed to be ready for action this weekend. We'll see about that.

PREDICTIONS

This is such a huge series for both schools. UNO is running a promotion to sell out the building on Friday night and I've heard there is less than 1,000 seats left in that huge barn. So the atmosphere is going to be electric. Unfortunately I think the Badgers lose one this weekend but find away to get 2 points.

Friday Night: Wisconsin 3, UNO 4
Saturday Night: Wisconsin 4, UNO 1

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