Minnesota Hockey Preview

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Hey, I'ma put us all on the map
Gone and I ain't lookin' back
I knew they gon' feel it like they tank on E
I promise baby, you can bet the bank on me
Cause ain't nobody tell me why there ain't gonna be no more
Thinking I'ma fall? Don't be so sure

Sideline Story-J. Cole

Ever since the start of the season, this current Wisconsin club has hung it's hat on it's resiliency, and it's ability to ignore their surroundings. That's going to be huge this weekend, as the Badgers are preparing to host their number one rival, the Minnesota Golden Gophers who just happen to be ranked number one in the country in every major poll.

There isn't a single national college hockey columnist who is giving the Badgers a prayer this weekend based on ability alone. Any expert that is predicting the Badgers have any success this weekend attributes it to the Kohl Center, and home ice advantage.

However, that's to be expected, and Wisconsin doesn't take it as a slight. Although don't expect the Badgers just to sit back this weekend and let Minnesota take 4 points on their home ice.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves talked a little bit this week about how a rivalry game may be different than a normal regular season game.

"It's Minnesota, and the guys are going to get all juiced up to play. I think our challenge as a coaching staff is to make sure they don't get overexcited and emotionally jazzed, so they can't play with poise and confidence, Eaves said in his weekly press conference. "You still have to find that level as an athlete to play in that flow state that gives you the best chance of playing well."

Last weekend the Badgers were on the road at St. Cloud and salvaged one league point after they came back on Saturday night to force a tie. Minnesota was at home last weekend and swept North Dakota, who has seemingly hit a wall ever since they traveled to Madison a few weeks back.

BADGER OFFENSE

Once again this week, junior center Derek Lee will be out after suffering an injury against Nebraska-Omaha. Red-shirt sophomore Keegan Meuer has stepped up in his absence and done an admirable job. Eaves has been pleased so far by the production of the Madison native.

"I think the mindset of the coaching staff has been who's going to step up? And, really, we've had that, Eaves noted Monday. "I mean, you have to give Keegan Meuer pretty good grades here for jumping up into the role that he's been thrust into, and he's done a nice job."

For the third straight week, the number one line of Joseph Labate, Mark Zengerle, and Tyler Barnes is projected to stay intact. That line once again was the most effective unit for the Badgers last weekend. Barnes continues to play like a bull with the puck and Zengerle continues to be a wizard with the puck on his stick.

It's a special weekend for guys like Barnes, LaBate, and Jason Clark who grew up in Minnesota but weren't recruited by the Gophers.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES

Jake McCabe is out for at least a few more weeks which means that Frankie Simonelli and Justin Schultz will be the Badgers number one pairing for another weekend. Schultz was outstanding last weekend against St. Cloud moving the puck all over the ice and putting points up on the board. Simonelli didn't look bad himself, playing sound hockey all weekend.

Looking down the lineup, Joe Faust, John Ramage and Eric Springer look like locks once again to play both nights against the Gophers. The battle for the last spot will be between Patrick Daly and Chase Drake. Last weekend Drake played on Friday night and was solid. I talked with an NHL scout after the game who was impressed with the play of the sophomore who has seen limited action as a Badger.

Daly got his opportunity on Saturday and didn't disappoint. He looked much better than he did the previous week against Nebraska-Omaha and deserves a shot this weekend against Minnesota. Regardless of the play of whichever the two is in the lineup on Friday, I would expect the other between Drake and Daly to get an opportunity on Saturday, as they both deserve it.

Between the pipes, Mike Eaves has announced that he's planning on breaking the rotation and starting Joel Rumpel on Friday night against the Gophers. This isn't a slight to Peterson, as he's played well, but I also feel like Rumpel deserves the opportunity for a Friday start against a premier opponent.

GOPHER OFFENSE

Where do we start? How about with the fact that Minnesota has the number one scoring offense in the country coming into this weekend averaging 4.8 goals per game. If you're not familiar with hockey, that number is absolutely silly good.

The Gophers are getting scoring from all four lines but their top two lines are really something special. Their top line features first round NHL pick Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish, and true freshman Kyle Rau. That line alone has combined to score 19 of the Gophers 48 goals this season.

What makes the Gophers so dangerous though, is that the scoring doesn't drop off from their top unit. Second line center Erik Haula leads the team in points with 17 in 10 games. With accessory pieces like Nate Condon and Jake Hansen, Minnesota can be lethal when they are rolling.

GOPHER DEFENSE & GOALIES

One of the biggest problems the Gophers had the past few seasons when they have struggled was the play of their back end. So far this season, it's been much improved. Sophomores Mark Alt and Justin Holl have looked much better than they did as freshmen and Seth Helgeson is a veteran presence on the back end.

Most noteworthy however, has been the play of senior goaltender Kent Patterson. Blocked behind Alex Kangas much of his career, Patterson didn't see much playing time until Kangas suffered an injury last season. Since taking over the full time role however, Patterson has been spectacular.

At this point, I think it's fair to say that Patterson is the best goalie in the country and it's going to take an outstanding effort from Wisconsin to put some points on the board. Don't be fooled though, North Dakota brought in two outstanding net-minders a few weeks ago and the Badgers lit them up like Christmas trees.

COVERAGE

Friday nights game will be televised on FSN at 7:00. The game will be on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.

Saturdays game will be televised on the Big Ten Network at 7:30. The game will be on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and on WTSO 1070.

POLLS

Wisconsin is "Receiving Votes" in the USCHO.com poll and un-ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. The Badgers are ranked 25th in the all important Pairwise ranking.

Minnesota is ranked #1 in both the USCHO.com poll as well as the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll. The Gophers are ranked #2 in the Pairwise.

INJURIES

Wisconsin will be without Derek Lee and Jake McCabe this weekend. Minnesota is at full strength.

LAST MEETING

The Badgers tied 3-3 after losing 5-2 the night before in Madison. Earlier in the season Wisconsin won 6-0 and tied 3-3 in Minneapolis.

Wisconsin is 12-20-6 against Minnesota in the Mike Eaves era.

FUN FACT

Mark Zengerle, Tyler Barnes, and Justin Schultz all are working on nine game point streaks.

PREDICTION

I've never predicted the Badgers to be swept at the Kohl Center but I came close this weekend. The Gophers are firing on all cylinders and the Badgers are going to have to play their best hockey to earn points.

I think the Gophers will be the better team on Friday night and earn a victory, but as they have all season, the Badgers will be resilient on Saturday and earn a series split.

Friday: Minnesota 4, Wisconsin 2

Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Minnesota 2

Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Chuck on Twitter (@UWChuckSchwartz)

Chuck can also be reached via e-mail at chuckschwartz@live.com

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