Hockey Series Preview: Wisconsin vs Alabama-Huntsville

Wisconsin hosts a rare Thursday-Friday series vs non-conference foe Alabama-Huntsville this weekend at the Kohl Center.

On the surface, last weekend could be seen as a disappointment. Wisconsin settled for back-to-back ties with a Michigan Tech program that hasn't had a lot of success this season.

On another level, there's a lot that you can take from the games last weekend. Wisconsin out-played, out-shot, out-chanced, out-hit, out everything'ed Michigan Tech.

Wisconsin also received goal scoring from players that had been expected to provide offense this season but were in slumps so deep the coaching staff had to check to see if they still had a pulse. Added with the return of Mark Zengerle from his finger injury and there's a lot that's starting to go right for the Badgers.

Wisconsin will get another opportunity to change their fate at home this weekend as they host Alabama-Huntsville in a rare Thursday-Friday series due to graduation and finals starting this weekend.

Wisconsin's 2-7-5 record right now isn't pretty, but Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves doesn't think that's necessarily indicative of the way the team is playing.

"The stats -- especially the win, loss, tie stat. It doesn't reflect the things that this group of young people are doing," Eaves said. "We're not going to say the sky is falling. We're not going to panic."

"We're going to stay the course here and figure out a way to maybe create more scoring chances."

Wisconsin has struggled to score all season. The most telling stat in my opinion is that they haven't recorded more than four goals in one weekend the entire season. Wisconsin will be looking to change that up this weekend against a Huntsville club ranked second to last in scoring offense, and defense.

BADGER OFFENSE

The big news on the Badger front this week was the suspension of Wisconsin forward Ryan Little for a hit during Saturday night's game vs Michigan Tech. You can find the video HERE.

Little will miss Thursday's contest vs Huntsville, but will be available Friday. Sophomore Matt Paape is expected to jump up in his spot on a line with Jefferson Dahl and Sean Little Thursday night.

It appears that Eaves will keep his top-six intact this weekend with Mark Zengerle centering Nic Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes for the second straight weekend. Derek Lee will once again center Joseph LaBate and Michael Mersch.

The big key up front right now is gelling as a unit. Last weekend was the first time all season that Wisconsin had both Zengerle and Kerdiles on the ice at the same time. It's going to take some time to get used to that combination.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin is running out of time--quickly.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

For the most part, another solid weekend for Wisconsin's defense. There were a few mistakes that Tech took advantage of for goals, but on a whole they played well.

One thing that I think they need to do more is carry the puck. There were a few times on Friday night that Joe Faust used his legs to bring the puck up the ice and create some offense and it was almost shocking because we haven't seen much of that at all this season.

In between the pipes Landon Peterson continues to be a dominant force. He stopped 30+ shots once again on Friday night and is making Eaves decisions very hard on who to start night-to-night. Joel Rumpel was good, not great on Saturday night but Peterson is out-playing him right now.

CHARGER OFFENSE

Huntsville is offensively challenged as I had previously noted, and it shows up in their offensive stats. There isn't a single Charger with double digit points at this point in the season. Currently the Chargers are led in scoring by sophomore forward Kyle Lysaght who has four goals and four assists in 15 games.

There are some local ties for UAH up front. Brice and Sebastian Geoffrion are the younger brothers of former Wisconsin Hobey Baker winner Blake. The former Badger captain will be on hand this weekend, and will be the ceremonial captain and will drop the puck on Friday night.

Additionally, senior forward Justin Cseter (1G, 3A) is from Menomonie.

CHARGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

UAH's top defenseman is sophomore Graeme Strukoff who is able to provide both offense and defense from the blue-line. The Chilliwack, B.C. native is tied for second on the team in scoring with three goals and four assists in 15 games this season for the Chargers.

In goal UAH lost a huge piece when Clark Saunders transferred from Huntsville to North Dakota over the summer. Saunders is now UND's top goaltender, and UAH has struggled to stop pucks this season.

Huntsville's top goalie this season has been senior John Griggs who carries a respectable .909 save percentage. He's going to have to be huge for UAH this weekend.

THREE KEY'S TO SUCCESS VS ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE

  1. Fire pucks from anywhere and everywhere. Joseph LaBate found out that you can be rewarded by simply throwing pucks on net last weekend as he recorded his first goal of the season on a shot he banked in from a terrible angle.
  2. Continue to support your goaltenders. Make sure there aren't any passing lanes across the slot, keep things tight, clear any rebounds that are left out front, drop bodies out front.
  3. Relax. Have some fun out there, this is a game after all. All season long it's felt like a weight has been on the shoulders of this team. Go out there and play hockey.

COVERAGE

Thursday night's game can be seen live on FS Wisconsin, and Friday's game will be on FS Wisconsin +.

Both games will be tape delayed on the Wisconsin Channel at 10 PM.

As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.

POLLS

Neither team is ranked in the polls.

INJURIES

Morgan Zulinick (thigh) is not expected to play.

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin swept Huntsville 7-0, 5-2 in the fall of 2010.

FUN FACT

Locked out NHL forward Brad Winchester will drop the ceremonial puck on Thursday night.

QUOTABLE

"68 percent of all goals are scored on second shots, rebounds. So that becomes a point of emphasis as well. So these are the type of things we're emphasizing in practice, and we'll continue to and see if we can break this little snake bitten-ness that we have in terms of scoring goals."--Mike Eaves

PREDICTION

This is a big weekend for Wisconsin as I think they seriously need to bust out of their scoring slump. Huntsville is not a good team defensively and the Badgers' need to use that to their advantage to build some momentum for the second half. I've got UW sweeping, but it's not going to be as easy as people think.

Thursday: Wisconsin 4, Huntsville 2

Friday: Wisconsin 5, Huntsville 2

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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