Hockey Series Preview: St. Cloud

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Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

Thin Lizzy--The Boys Are Back In Town

After a hard fought series in Grand Forks against North Dakota, the Wisconsin men's hockey team returns home to the Kohl Center to host St. Cloud State University.

Last weekend the Badgers were swept by North Dakota. St. Cloud State is also coming off two losses that came at the hands of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

With only four WCHA series left in the season and the Badgers in 9th place in the league, time is running out to acquire the points necessary to garner home ice advantage in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

"We're not that far out of home ice. But, again, we have to take care of our business and refocus and learn our lessons and move forward," Badger head coach Mike Eaves noted this week.

"It's still a group of young people that are young in their development. And we'll continue the process of coaching them up and helping them get better, and then our test will be what we can do this weekend."

Despite coming up short in the win column last week, Eaves noted that his club did a lot of good things that they are hoping will carry over to the series this weekend against St. Cloud including battling in a tough environment.

"I come away from that game (Saturday) thinking we did a lot of good things. A, we competed physically enough or hard enough in that building to win. I mean, that was one of our concerns going in there with such a young team. Could we handle that environment and play physical and go toe to toe with a team that likes to play that way? And we did that," Eaves said in his weekly press availability.

"Secondly, I thought the way we played in our own . . . coming out, our breakouts was excellent. Unfortunately, the downside of what I saw was the fact that we didn't do enough in the offensive zone to create any sustained offensive pressure and to create enough shots on the net. And then that was, to some degree, our demise on Saturday."

BADGER OFFENSE

One of the major talking points this week has been the lack of shots generated by the Badgers this season. According to an article written by the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot this week, Wisconsin is on pace for the least amount of shots in a season since Mike Eaves has been at the helm.

Eaves talked about the issue this week.

"It goes back to the philosophy take what's given. If the shot is taken, is open, take it. And if you miss, you miss, but at least take the shot. It has a chance. Because if you don't take the shot, and there's a pass, and the guy's standing right beside your teammate, he ain't getting the puck anyway," Eaves said.

"So take that responsibility. You're not being selfish. You're taking what's given, which is what a good hockey player will do."

This week Wisconsin will likely be without the services of junior forward Derek Lee who suffered a concussion on Friday night against North Dakota. The play wasn't identified but at one point Friday Lee went hard to the net head first and ended up crashing straight into the goal.

The loss is a big one for the Badgers who will have to adjust their forward lines and find a competent center to take his faceoffs. Last weekend UND owned the Badgers in the face off circle and it will be something to watch this week as freshman Matt Paape will be shifted to the middle this week.

According to early projections, Wisconsin will keep it's top line of Joseph LaBate, Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes together this weekend. That unit generated scoring chances last weekend but had a tough time finding the net (as the whole team did).

Keegan Meuer will be rewarded for his play last weekend and will be bumped up to a line with Brendan Woods and Michael Mersch. Meuer and Mersch had arguably their best weekends as Badgers last weekend and will probably be given extended minutes as the coaching staff looks to generate more scoring chances.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES

It was interesting to see how much attention UND placed on shutting down Justin Schultz last weekend. Especially on the power play North Dakota had two guys bracketing him at all times to try and limit his touches. Other teams have tried similar strategies but haven't had nearly the success that UND did.

St. Cloud doesn't have the horses that North Dakota does so I would expect Schultz to get lose a few times this weekend.

Defensively I didn't think the Badgers had their best weekend up in Grand Forks. UND had too many quality scoring chances. I'm hoping a couple guys take steps forward the next four weekends.

Joe Faust and Jake McCabe are the future of this team defensively and it's time for them to make their mark. Faust has come along ok, but it's time for him to take that next step in his game.

In net I think you can expect Rumpel on Friday night and most likely on Saturday as well unless he gets lit up tonight.

HUSKY OFFENSE

St. Cloud State has major issues right now with their forwards. Drew LeBlanc, Jordy Christian, and Travis Novak who are all upperclassmen and relied upon for minutes are out this weekend due to injury. St. Cloud also lost Mitch MacMillan (transfer) and Cam Reid (left for the WHL) who they could really use right now.

As it stands right now, the Huskies had to bring in a kid out of junior hockey at the semester break and are suiting up a defenseman at wing again this week.

Ben Hanowski leads the charge up front for St. Cloud and will be someone that the Badgers will have to key on. The junior out of Little Falls, Minnesota has 30 points this season including a team high 15 goals.

Also watch out for sophomore Nic Dowd who has some wheels and can get lose on you in a hurry.

HUSKY DEFENSE & GOALIES

Due to their lack of bodies up front, defenseman Jarrod Rabey has been moved up to wing on the third line. Rabey was one of the more impressive blue-liners for the Huskies when the two teams met up earlier in the season.

Their top pairing all season however has been sophomore Nick Jensen and freshman Andrew Prochno. The pair has combined for 40 points on the season and both will be in contention for all conference honors at the outset of the WCHA season. Prochno is probably even the favorite at this point for the Rookie of the Year award in the league.

Between the pipes the Huskies returned junior Mike Lee last weekend who had been out most of the season with a lower body injury. Lee is one of the better goaltenders in the league and should give St. Cloud a boost. Not that they needed it, because freshman Ryan Faragher has played pretty well in his absence. I'd expect to see both goalies this weekend.

CHUCK'S THREE KEY'S TO SUCCESS

New feature added this week, the three things that Wisconsin needs to do to have success against St. Cloud State this weekend.

  1. Get pucks to the net. The Huskies have some pretty solid net-minders and Wisconsin needs to take what is given and get pucks on goal.
  2. Keep Michael Mersch hot. The sophomore was throwing his body around last weekend and was the most noticeable player on t he ice at times. He could be a major contributor down the stretch.
  3. Take secondary opportunities away from St. Cloud. Like the Badgers, SCSU has a major issue with getting shots on net right now. When they do, Rumpel needs to cover the puck and his defensemen need to clear the puck to limit the second chances.

COVERAGE

Friday night's TV coverage will be on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's (8:00 start) game will be on WISC-TV (Charter Extra 87 outside Madison) and tape-delayed at 10:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Channel.

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

POLLS

Neither school is ranked by either major poll this week.

INJURIES

Wisconsin will be without Derek Lee who is suffering from a concussion.

St. Cloud has too many to list.

LAST MEETING

St. Cloud State took 3 of 4 points from the Badgers in St. Cloud earlier this season.

FUN FACT

Former Badger Andrew Joudrey made his NHL debut this week for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Joudrey's call up marked the 10th player of the 2006 National Championship squad to appear in the National Hockey League.

PREDICTION

Even without Derek Lee this weekend, Wisconsin is the much healthier team. The Badgers have actually played pretty well at the Kohl Center this season and St. Cloud has been pretty bad outside of the National Hockey Center. Both teams are fighting for home ice and will leave everything on the ice.

I'd love to call a sweep this weekend but I think one of the St. Cloud goaltender's steals a game this weekend. Split.

Friday: Wisconsin 4, St. Cloud 3

Saturday: St. Cloud 3, Wisconsin 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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