Wisconsin will face UMD in their WCHA opener this weekend in Duluth - Photo Credit: Larry Radloff
Wisconsin opens up their WCHA season with a two-game series in Duluth vs the Bulldogs.
I move onward, the only direction
Can't be scared to fail, searchin' perfection
Jay-Z -- On to the next one
The Badgers have had a rough couple weeks. First it started when they found out that freshman forward Nic Kerdiles would be suspended for the entire season. That suspension has since been reduced to ten games.
Things didn't get much better for UW when they opened up their season two weeks ago in Green Bay. The Badgers were swept in front of a pro-Wisconsin crowd at the Resch center, managing just five shots on goal in the third period between both games.
Now that we're finally moving on from the Kerdiles saga, it's time to point that ship back in the right direction as well. Before the season this Badger club had high expectations. No longer is this a young team that can make excuses. The time to win is now, and that starts this weekend in Duluth vs the Bulldogs.
Minnesota-Duluth has played two series so far this season, splitting both. The Bulldogs opened their season beating Ohio State on Friday 6-2, but dropped a close one the next night 3-2. Last weekend UMD earned another split on the road at Notre Dame, dropping the Irish in the opener 3-1, but falling in South Bend in the finale 4-1.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves says the Badgers are going to have their hands full with the Bulldogs this weekend.
"As we look at their club, they have seven seniors, highly touted freshmen and a couple of goaltenders they're trying to figure out who's going to be number one," Eaves noted during his weekly press conference.
Eaves also mentioned that after a weekend off, his team is chomping at the bit to get back out there.
"We're excited to get on the road. It's a unique experience to try to get some points when you're on the road," Eaves said. "We're looking forward to that challenge."
Andy Baggot from the detailed the Badgers new offensive system this week in the Wisconsin State Journal. He really did a nice job, and fans should be excited for the changes.
Wisconsin is moving from a 1-2-2 approach where they let the other team dictate what was going on, to a more aggressive 1-1-3 where the Badgers are the aggressor.
In Wisconsin's season opening series in Green Bay, this forecheck worked to perfection early in the game when the Badgers were fresh and keeping their shifts short. However later in the game, shifts got longer and their production dropped immensely.
With the Badgers having four lines that they can trust, expect Eaves to keep shifts to 40 seconds or so while he rolls all four lines. UW doesn't mind putting their fourth line out against anyone in the country, so line matching isn't an issue for Wisconsin these days.
Personnel wise, the Badgers will obviously be without Nic Kerdiles while he sits out the remaining eight games on his suspension. He'll actually be playing for the U.S. U18 team this weekend as they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis.
Wisconsin will also be without senior forward Derek Lee, after he was banged up in a scooter accident during Wisconsin's bye week.
Look for freshman Morgan Zulinick to move from the left-wing to center this week in Lee's absence. Sophomore Matt Paape is expected to jump up on that line as well with junior Michael Mersch.
The rest of the Wisconsin lineup should look similar to Saturday's game vs Northern Michigan. Mark Zengerle is centering the top line with Joseph LaBate and Tyler Barnes.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES
While overall Wisconsin didn't look too bad defensively vs Northern Michigan, there were some obvious breakdowns that lead to goals by the Wildcats. The Badgers will look to shore up those miscues this week, and will do so with a pair of freshman projected on the back end.
In the season opening series, freshmen Kevin Schulze and Eddie Wittchow each played one game. Both players played well at times, and both players looked like it was their first college game at times as well.
In order for Wisconsin to win hockey games this season, they are going to need Wittchow and Schulze to play, and play effectively. Wittchow brings a little jam, while Schulze brings incredible skating ability and a little offensive flair.
Look for Wisconsin's top pair as expected before the season to be Jake McCabe and Frankie Simonelli. Those two played well together in the season opening series and are going to carry the mail a lot for the Badgers this season.
Your other pairs will likely be Wittchow and senior John Ramage, and Schulze and junior Joe Faust. Ramage and Faust are veterans who can help ease the transition of two young blue-liners at this level.
In goal I would expect to see both Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson once again. Rumpel carried the hot hand down the stretch at the end of last season, but Peterson outplayed Rumpel in Green Bay.
Minnesota-Duluth will be without the services of senior Cody Danberg this weekend as he is nursing an undisclosed upper body injury. UMD radio play-by-play man Bruce Ciskie notes that freshman Austyn Young will jump up in Danberg's spot this week for the Bulldogs.
UMD certainly lost a lot of firepower after last season, with Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly finally graduating after what seemed like a 13 year career in Duluth. The Bulldogs also lost high scoring forwards Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown. Brown left the Bulldogs after just two seasons to sign an NHL contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Expected to step up and fill their shoes are players like senior Mike Seidel (3G, 3A), and sophomore Caleb Herbert (0G, 4A). Other seasoned forwards include Joe Basaraba and Justin Crandall, the younger brother of goaltender Aaaron.
In addition to Austyn Young, the Bulldogs have some other freshman forwards that could have an impact this weekend. Austin Farley is second on the club in scoring with a goal and three assists through four games. Farley led the Fargo Force in scoring last season and he's making the transition to college hockey look seamless so far.
BULLDOG DEFENSE & GOALIES
Brady Lamb and Scott Kishel were the two big-name losses for the Bulldogs defensively. Lamb was one of the bigger offensive threats from the back end in the WCHA last season, registering 31 points. Kishel wasn't so bad either, chipping in 18 points of his own.
Look for senior leader Wade Bergman to lead the charge for the Bulldogs this weekend. I projected Bergman to be an All-WCHA defenseman before the season started and he's well on his way so far early in the season.
In previous viewings of UMD, I've also been impressed with Drew Olson and Chris Casto. Also, don't forget that the Bulldogs landed one of the top defensive recruits in the country in Andrew Welinski. The freshman blue-liner has been one of UMD's more productive defensemen already early this season.
UMD also lost a major piece between the pipes after last season in goaltender Kenny Reiter. The former Bulldog net-minder was a steady cog for UMD, and helped lead the Bulldogs to a national championship just two-seasons ago.
Without Reiter back, UMD has major questions in goal. The only returnee is former Wisconsin recruit Aaron Crandall, who has posted marginal numbers at best. While Crandall is somehow 13-6-1, he's recorded a save percentage of just .889 during his Bulldog career.
Battling Crandall for the starting job is freshman Matt McNeely who played well in his debut last weekend in South Bend. McNeely stopped 29 of 30 shots, and will likely play at least one game vs the Badgers this weekend.
THREE KEY'S TO SUCCESS VS UMD
- Keep the shifts short. With the new offense that the Badgers are trying to implement this season, guys get tired a lot faster and Wisconsin needs to keep their shifts to 35-45 seconds to be the most effective.
- Common theme here, but get the puck to the net. Part of the problem was tired legs in the season opening series, but the Badgers managed just five shots on goal in the third period vs Northern Michigan.
- When you get the puck to the net, HIT THE NET. It was incredible how many shots Wisconsin fired off line in Green Bay. While I applaud the attempts, you need to be smarter with your shots. Firing it high off the glass when there are guys out front available to clean up rebounds isn't the best play.
Unfortunately there is no live television coverage of this weekends series at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.
There is also a webcast ($) through americaonesports.com (LINK HERE).
The Badgers are receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll, and aren't ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Minnesota Duluth is #14 in the USCHO.com poll, and also #14 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
The Badgers will be without forward Derek Lee after he was banged up in a scooter accident last weekend.
UMD will be without forward Cody Danberg who is out with an undisclosed upper body injury.
The Badgers tied and lost to then #1 ranked Minnesota Duluth last season at the Kohl Center.
This is the last time that Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth will meet during the regular season as members of the WCHA. Next season the Badgers will join the Big Ten Hockey Conference, while UMD joins the NCHC.
"We want to be a hard team to play against," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said, "and we know we have to take better care of the puck than we did last week."
Wisconsin loses out on quite a bit of firepower without Derek Lee and Nic Kerdiles in the lineup, but the Badgers still have a pretty good club. Being that it's in Duluth, I think that they will get at least one win this weekend. The Badgers have the edge in goal, so I'll take the easy way out and call this one a split.
Friday: Wisconsin 4, Minnesota-Duluth 2
Saturday: Minnesota-Duluth 3, Wisconsin 2
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