Hockey Series Preview: Minnesota State

Photo Courtesy of Nicole Haase.

No fear, go to sleep in the lion's den
That flow, that spark, that crown
You looking at the king of the jungle now
Stronger than ever can't hold me down
A hundred miles feelin' from the picture smile
Straight game face, it's game day
See me running through the crowd full of melee

Flo Rida--"Good Feeling"

The Wisconsin men's hockey team returns to WCHA action this weekend on the road at Minnesota State. For the first time in a while, the Badgers are feeling good about going on the road. This season Wisconsin is winless on the road (0-5-1), but are facing a squad who rarely wins anywhere.

Wisconsin is coming off two wins at home last weekend against RIT which improved the teams overall record to 9-9-2. Minnesota State enters the weekend coming off a road split at St. Lawrence. The Mavericks have 6 wins this season (6-15-1), but are sitting in last place in the WCHA with a 2-11-1 record at the mid-way point.

Wisconsin enters the second half of WCHA play in 10th place in the league (out of 12). Obviously not satisfied, the Badgers have made it known in the media this week that they are looking for a much better second half.

The Badgers will have an opportunity right out of the gates to "make some hay" as coach Mike Eaves likes to say with series against Minnesota State and 11th place Alaska Anchorage.

"We've set a goal in the second half to get home ice. In order to do that, we have to win these games in order to give ourselves a legitimate chance," Eaves noted in his weekly press conference. "So these are really two big weekends coming up for us in order to accomplish the second-half goal that we set as a team."

WISCONSIN OFFENSE

Badger sophomore forward Mark Zengerle has extended his consecutive game point streak to 19 games and is within striking distance of tying Eaves for the Wisconsin record at 21. The Rochester, NY native continues to find his name on the score sheet despite his points not always being picture perfect.

Another big note this weekend for the Badger forwards is the return of junior alternate captain Ryan Little returning to the lineup. Little has missed the past six games after having surgery to fix a broken hand that he had played with for the majority of the season. Little broke the hand early in the season against North Dakota and gutted it out for a month before having surgery to correct the issue.

Little's return to the lineup will mark the first time the Badgers have a full squad of regulars all healthy at the same time since October 21st.

Junior Derek Lee returned to the Badger lineup last weekend and recorded two assists. You could tell that he's still getting his feet back under him but his return, coupled with Little's should have a positive impact as the Badgers search for home ice in the second half.

Wisconsin's power play unit continues to improve. The Badgers are now 9th in the country at 23.5% on the man advantage.

WISCONSIN DEFENSE & GOALIES

Shocker, I'm going to lead off with Justin Schultz here. The Hobey Baker candidate once again had a monster weekend on both ends of the ice. Schultz had a four point weekend and was +2 raising his overall stats on the year to 32 points in 20 gameas with a +8 plus/minus.

Freshman Jake McCabe stepped his game up last weekend against RIT with the first two goals of his college career. McCabe is seeing some time on the fist power play unit which obviously helps but the young blue-liner is making an impact up and down the rink.

Eaves split up the goalie rotation last weekend and surprised many when he started Landon Peterson on Friday night and Joel Rumpel on Saturday. There have been no indications publicly which way Eaves is leaning this weekend. Rumpel continues to carry the better overall stats but Eaves refuses to hand him the job full time.

MAVERICK OFFENSE

Minnesota State is led up front by an all freshman line of Jean-Paul LaFontaine, Matt Leitner, and Max Gaede. That trio has combined for 19 of the 61 goals the Mavericks have scored this season. LaFontaine leads the club in goals (11) and scoring (19 points ) through 22 games.

Minnesota transfer Mike Dorr is another player to keep an eye on this weekend. Despite recording only four goals so far this season, Dorr has the play making ability to make things happen at any time. His line-mates Zach Lehrke (16 points) and Eriah Hayes (12 points) are solid WCHA forwards as well.

The Mavericks have a decent power play going right now. They are clipping at 20% which is right around the middle of the pack. The Badgers improved penalty kill should only get better with Ryan Little returning this weekend.

MAVERICK DEFENSE & GOALIES

Minnesota State has been a mess defensively all season, mostly due to injuries. The Mav's have given up an average of 3.64 goals per game which is the fourth worst in the country.

Freshman Zach Palmquist has stepped right into the Maverick lineup and provided some much needed offense from the blueline. Palmquist, who played his junior hockey last season for Waterloo in the USHL has chipped in 4 goals to go along with 7 assists for 11 points.

Additionally, Minnesota State is looking to rely upon senior Cameron Cooper in the second half. Cooper is the only senior on the Mavericks blue-line and head coach Troy Jutting is looking for Cooper to lead the young Mavericks defensive core down the stretch.

In net you can expect to see Austin Lee between the pipes for Minnesota State on Friday night. He's played much better than last seasons stater Phil Cook who has kind of gone in the tank since having a solid season as a sophomore last year.

COVERAGE

Both games can be seen statewide on Charter Extra channel 87. Additionally, the games will be broadcast on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA AM 1310.

There is a webcast ($).

POLLS

Neither the Badgers, nor the Mavericks are ranked in either major poll.

INJURIES

Wisconsin will be at full strength for the first time in a long while.

MSU will be without Brett Stern, Danny Heath, and Chase Grant. Additionally, Eli Zuck is suspended for Friday's game and won't play.

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin swept the Mavericks 3-2, 2-1 last year at the Kohl Center.

FUN FACT

According to Badger beat writer Andy Baggot, the Badgers cumulative GPA for the first semester was 3.0. Not too shabby.

PREDICTION

Wisconsin has been awful in Mankato since Eaves has taken over the Badger program. In fact, Wisconsin is just 3-8-1 at Verizon Wireless Arena in that span.

Every WCHA game for the Badgers from here on out is especially huge and Wisconsin is finally starting to play with a little confidence. Normally this is an easy decision for me to call a split but I've got a gut feeling that the Badgers snap out of their road slump with two big victories this weekend.

Friday: Wisconsin 6, Minnesota State 3

Saturday: Wisconsin 4, Minnestoa State 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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