I'm back in the saddle again
I'm back in the saddle again
I'm riding, I'm loading up my pistol
I'm riding, I really got a fistful
I'm riding, I'm shining up my saddle
I'm riding, this snake is gonna rattle
Aerosmith--Back in the saddle
After four weeks off from games that count, the Wisconsin men's hockey team is back in action this weekend as they host Atlantic Hockey foe RIT for a two game non-conference series at the Kohl Center.
The last time you saw the Badgers in real game action was when they hosted #1 ranked Minnesota-Duluth. After the Badgers earned a tie on Friday, the Bulldogs showed why they are #1 by besting the Badgers on Saturday. Wisconsin also beat the USA U18 team in an exhibition game 4-3 on New Years Eve.
RIT is playing their best hockey of the season. They are coming off two big wins in the Catamount Cup in which they beat #17 Ferris State and #18 Lake Superior State.
A surprising strength in the first half of the season, Wisconsin will be looking to build upon the groundwork they laid early in the season. With the only two upperclassmen at the position missing extended periods of time due to injury, freshmen and sophomores were thrust into expanded roles early on that can only help as the season wears on.
Back this weekend for the first time in a game that matters since late October is Derek Lee. The junior center was expected to be a major contributor for the Badgers this season and put up 5 points in his first 7 games for Wisconsin before a freak hand injury relegated him to watching games from the stands for the past few months.
Lee right now is projected to be centering a line with Michael Mersch and Matt Paape. That unit has some size, some grit, and some skill and should help take some pressure off the Badgers top unit who has seen most of the attention from the opposition all season.
That unit this weekend will feature Mark Zengerle between Joseph LaBate who moves back to wing after an experiment that had him playing center recently. Tyler Barnes is back on the other wing once again with Zengerle like he has been most of the season.
It's a big weekend for Zengerle. Not only does he have a chance to extend his 17 game point scoring streak, but he's playing his home town team. Zengerle is from Rochester, NY where RIT is located. Zengerle mentioned this week in multiple media reports that he used to go to RIT games as a kid and has been looking forward to this weekend for a while.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES
Mike Eaves has liked what he's seen out of his top pairing of Justin Schultz and Frankie Simonelli so he'll keep them together once again this weekend. Hard to blame him with their production thus far. The pair has combined for 38 points and are tied with each other for the team lead in the +/- category at +6.
In an effort to shake things up with the rest of the defensemen that frankly haven't played as well as anyone expected, the coaching staff has changed up the pairings. Freshman Jake McCabe has been paired up with junior captain John Ramage who has struggled in the first half for the Badgers. McCabe has shown flashes of why he was such a highly touted recruit out of the USA NTDP and pairing him with Ramage could give him a nice spark.
The third pairing (at least for Friday) will feature the only senior in the Badger lineup Eric Springer, and sophomore Joe Faust. Springer hasn't played up to expectations thus far but I'm expecting that to change as he looks to write his legacy as a Badger.
Not sure what to expect between the pipes this weekend. I'd expect freshman Joel Rumpel to get the nod on Friday as he has been the past few series and then the coaching staff will go from there.
The Tigers have struggled to find the scoreboard this season as they are only averaging 2.39 goals per game compared to Wisconsin's 3.17. RIT's powerplay has also struggled much of the first half, as they are only converting at 14%.
Don't be fooled though, the Tigers have weapons up front including a player looking for revenge. While the Tigers have a pretty young squad, they still return 11 players that were on the team when the Badgers stomped RIT in the semi-finals of the 2010 Frozen Four at Ford Field. For guys like leading scorer Cameron Burt, you know he's looking for some revenge.
Burt centers RIT's top line that also features co-leading scorer Michael Colavecchia. The sophomore Colavecchia leads the Tigers in goals with 6, and is one of the biggest weapons in Atlantic Hockey.
RIT DEFENSE & GOALIES
Probably the strength of the RIT team is on the back end. RIT is only giving up 2.2 goals per game this season which ranks them 9th in the nation in goals against per game. It's going to be really important for the Badgers to get pucks to the net early and often.
Junior Chris Saracino is the flashiest blue-liner that the Tigers feature. Saracino has put up 8 points and also leads all defensemen on the roster in +/- at a +5. The Tigers will also rely on senior Chris Haltigin for experience in a hostile environment this weekend.
In net you can expect to see Shane Madolara between the pipes on Friday night. The junior has put up outstanding numbers for the Tigers this season and has been the backbone of the program.
The Friday night game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's game can be seen live on TVW (Charter extra 87 around the state). Saturday's game can also be seen on delay on the Wisconsin Channel at 10 PM. You can find both games on the radio on WIBA 1310 and the Badger Sports Network.
Wisconsin is not ranked in either major poll. RIT is receiving votes in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magzine polls.
Derek Lee returns from a hand injury. Gavin Hartzog and Ryan Little are out with hand injuries.
Wisconsin beat RIT at the 2010 Frozen Four 8-1.
Mike Eaves next win will be the 200th of his career.
The Tigers are a much better hockey club than most are giving them credit for. They are a better team right now coming into the Kohl Center than Mercyhurst was earlier in the season. Additionally, there are a number of players on this RIT squad that haven't forgotten the beating Wisconsin gave them at the Frozen Four two seasons ago.
That said, these are must wins for the Badgers and I think they know that. If they want to have any hope at the NCAA tournament, they need to sweep this weekend, and I think they will.
Friday: Wisconsin 5, RIT 3
Saturday: Wisconsin 4, RIT 2
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