Wednesday, February 23, 2011

St. Cloud State Week

So no matter what been through, no matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass, picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down, you just lift your arms higher
Raise 'em 'til your arms tired, let 'em know you here
That you struggling, survivin', that you gon' persevere
Ain't nobody leavin', nobody goin' home
Even if they turn the lights out, the show is goin' on
-Lupe Fiasco, "The Show Goes On"

It's been a tough two weeks for the Wisconsin men's hockey team. After winning 12 out of 13 the Badgers are winless in their past four games. A sweep at Nebraska-Omaha and a loss and a tie at the Kohl Center at the hands of the Gophers has put the Badgers on the brink of a WCHA first round road playoff series and on the NCAA tournament bubble. But the show must go on.

Wisconsin takes it's show on the road this weekend as they travel to St. Cloud to take on the 11th place Huskies. But this isn't your average 11th place team. St. Cloud was projected by the WCHA coaches and Media to be a top 3 team in the league this season. Obviously that hasn't happened for a variety of reasons but St. Cloud is 7-4-3 since the holiday break.

Last weekend saw the Badgers really struggle to get anything going on Friday night and puck luck wasn't on their side as they hit multiple posts . It's hard to say if one or two of those shots go in if it changes the final outcome of the game. Saturday night the team bounced back and played extremely well for large portions of the game but 3 mental breakdowns caused 3 goals.

I thought Patrick Johnson had a great game on Saturday night. I was critical of PJ's play last year and I said I'd be the first to credit him when he deserved it. Well here I am. I don't know if it's just extra effort but PJ has shown an extra burst recently that I didn't know he had. He showed it on his goal Saturday and also beating players to loose pucks in different spots as well. He's having a very nice bounce back season and is starting to play his best hockey in the most important time of the season. That's something I would expect out of a Johnson.

Brett Bennett got his first shot in goal in a big spot since he played against Michigan over Thanksgiving and he played really well. I thought he moved really well all night and none of the goals were really his fault. One on the power play, one break away, and the other I have no idea what the defensemen were doing letting the Minnesota forward walk right in on net. According to Andy Baggot's report last night, Eaves has already tabbed Bennett Friday nights starter. It's too early to even make a prediction on who Eaves will go to in the net on Saturday.

Defensively Eaves has also made some changes this week. No longer is the dynamic duo of Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner in 5 on 5 action. Schultz is now paired up with John Ramage and Gardiner with freshman Frankie Siomonelli. The other pairing is Joe Faust and Craig Johnson. This is a great opportunity for Wisconsin to spread out the defensive minutes. It's seemed in recent weeks that Schutlz and Gardiner had played so many minutes early in the game that late in the game they weren't as effect as they could be.

Simonelli also deserves the more minutes. He's been paired with Eric Springer or Joe Faust almost all season and it's time for his minutes to expand. Simonelli is going to be a key cog on the Badgers blue line the next few seasons and it's time that he steps up and expands his game as at this point in the season no one is a freshman any more.

I'm surprised that we haven't heard of any changes offensively. The offense has been fairly stale and wouldn't have minded to see some changes. Derek Lee jumps out as a kid who I think could be tried with someone like Craig Smith to see if he can spark some more offense. Lee I've noticed a lot more the second half of the season playing the body and playing a lot more physical. He's working on all aspects of his game and I think it's shown.

Like I mentioned in the into St. Cloud may be in 11th place in the league but they don't have an 11th place roster. There is a reason that they were projected to finish so high and that's because they have a lot of talent on this roster. I've seen them quite a few times this season and there are some underlying issues that they are finally past.

The Huskies played the first half of the season without Sophomore forward David Eddy who was suspended due to academics. Since returning the Huskies are 7-4-3 and Eddy has 12 points including 6 goals. I talked about his play yesterday in an article and I'll reiterate it here. The kid has brought something that St. Cloud really lacks to the table and that is someone willing to get his beak dirty. St. Cloud has a ton of skilled players but not many willing to get dirty in front of the net and Eddy has that ability.

After an incident that happened in Florida, St. Cloud dismissed forward Tony Mosey and defenseman Chris Hepp from the team. Hepp was a solid defenseman for the Huskies and Mosey had a huge junior season in 09-10. But for whatever reason Mosey was having a terrible senior season (5 points in 16 games) and with his off ice habits (Florida incident, and an arrest earlier in the season), it's led to much speculation that his dismissal was the best thing that could have happened for the Huskies.

The Huskies have also found some consistency in the net lately. Sophomore Mike Lee, a member of the gold medal winning USA World Junior Championship team last year has started every game since early December and has been respectable. Nothing spectacular but not bad by any means.

The Huskies have a few nice forwards besides Eddy. Obviously the first name that comes to every ones mind is Garrett Roe. While Roe doesn't seem to be having the same type of season that he's put up in the past, he's still a threat any time he's on the ice.

Junior Drew LaBlanc has taken his game to the next level this season. One of the true goal scorers in the league, LaBlanc is slippery and can really make a team pay. Jare Festler, Ben Hanowski, and a pair of freshmen, Nic Dowd and Cam Reid all have shown the ability to find the net.

The Huskies problems come on the back end. Their top pairing of freshman Nick Jensen and 6'5 Oliver Lauridsen isn't bad but after that they don't have a ton of talent back there. Jensen is a great puck mover and you'll find him rushing the puck up the ice and making plays. Lauridsen is a monster but is prone to taking penalties because he's not quick enough to keep up with some of the more skilled forwards in the league.

Wisconsin should be able to take advantage of St. Cloud's weak defensive core and I think should put some points up on the board this weekend. Besides Jensen and Lauridsen there isn't a defenseman on their roster who would crack the lineup for the Badgers. Getting pucks in deep and banging bodies and creating turnovers should put the Badgers in prime position to put some goals on the board.

COVERAGE

Both games are being televised this weekend by Husky Productions and will be broadcast on the "Charter Extra" channel. So if you get Charter you're in luck.

POLLS

Wisconsin dropped from #12 to #13 in the USCHO.com poll and #13 to #14 in the USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today poll. St. Cloud is un-ranked.

INJURIES

People are banged up but it looks like everyone should be a go for this weekend including Joe Faust who had a shoulder issue but looks to be fine.

PREDICTIONS

The Badgers are fighting for their NCAA tournament lives right and they know it. Wisconsin is the better team but you know in this league that anything can happen. I think Wisconsin comes out firing on Friday night and get the win and St. Cloud manages a split on Saturday night which is senior night for the Huskies.

Friday Night: Wisconsin 5, St. Cloud 3
Saturday Night: Wisconsin 3, St. Cloud 3




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