We're back once again with our weekly "Take Five" series where we take a deeper look into the hockey Badgers opposition by chatting with local beat writers from around the country. This week Wisconsin is packing up the bus and hitting the road as they travel to Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Earlier this week I was able to chat with Minnesota writer Nathan Wells (@gopherstate), who covers the Gophers for the SB Nation Minnesota. Nathan also does a great job covering the Minnesota Wild for the First Round Bust website.
The Badgers enter this weekends series coming off their first road sweep of the season. Last weekend the Badgers registered back-to-back 4-2 victories at Bemidji State and carry a swagger into this weekend that they haven't had all year.
Minnesota has a little swagger themselves right now. The Gophers are on a four game winning streak after consecutive sweeps of Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State.
This week we chatted with Nathan about the status of star forward Nick Bjugstad, the play of net-minder Kent Patterson, and what it would mean for this team to win the MacNaughton Cup.Bucky's 5th Quarter: First off, do we have an update on Minnesota's leading scorer Nick Bjugstad who was injured last weekend against Nebraska-Omaha. Also, can you give us a little insight as to his talent level and what he means to this team?
Nathan Wells: The latest update on Nick Bjugstad came yesterday (Wednesday February 29) in which head coach Don Lucia stated that the star forward is day-to-day. He missed the third period of Saturday's game as a precaution with the team being up 3-1 after being hit earlier by Mavericks defenseman Tony Turgeon.
Two other players who missed last weekend's series, defenseman Ben Marshall and forward Nick Larson, should be returning this weekend.
Bjugstad's play has been one of the big reasons for Minnesota's success. His 23 goals are third in the nation and Nick uses his size and vision to better those around him. If he is unable to play, it will be a blow for the Gophers like any team losing their top forward but they have relied on depth all season.
B5Q: Kent Patterson has played in net for every game this season for Minnesota so I wouldn't expect that to change this weekend. He's allowed just five goals in his past 4 starts, has he taken his game to another level down the stretch?
Wells: After a month of looking like Patterson regressed back to the mean with giving up some soft goals, he's gotten back to what has worked earlier in the season. Mainly he doesn't try to do every little thing, cut back on the number of rebounds and relies on Minnesota's defense to clear pucks and bodies out when needed. It's also helped that the blue line has done an excellent job for the most part of limiting odd-man rushes and side-to-side saves. The end result has been like you said 5 goals given up in the last 4 games, including 1 in 2 games against Bemidji State and Patterson has 7 shutouts this season.
B5Q: Defenseman Nate Schmidt is third in the country in scoring from the blue-line. He just continues to rack up points as the season rolls along. Has his elevated play this season been one of the major reasons in the Gophers resurgence?
Wells: The biggest reason for the Gophers' resurgence this year is the team getting guys not named Bjugstad, Rau or Patterson to develop and take that next step. Players like Nate Schmidt, who has 30 assists as a sophomore after being a healthy scratch for much of last season, Erik Haula more than doubling his goal total and Nate Condon's 4 shorthanded goals have all played a major role even if it flies under the radar.There's no bigger example of the blue line in which the third pairing sophomores Schmidt and Jake Parenteau have made their eye. Schmidt's eye for seeing plays as they happen (i.e. he found freshman Sam Warning on a 65 foot breakout pass for Minnesota's first goal last weekend) and Parenteau's relentless and smart defensive play (he's the most underrated of all the underrated players...if that makes sense) allows Minnesota to not rely on a single pairing.
B5Q: What would it mean to the Minnesota program to win the MacNaughton Cup this weekend after three (by their standards) down seasons in a row?
Wells: As happy as fans are after missing the last three NCAA Tournaments, two Final Fives and calling for Don Lucia's head just last season, a MacNaughton Cup would mean the most for the 7 seniors on this year's team. They have never won a banner, MacNaughton or Broadmoor - hell they've only won the Mariucci Classic once in four years - so getting Minnesota, one of the premiere names in college hockey, back to where it has been and getting to play for a national title would be a fantastic way to finish their college career.
B5Q: Time to put you on the spot sir, what are your predictions for this weekends border battle games?
Wells: This is tough and one reason why I'm not in the business of making predictions is because there are enough things which I already make an ass of myself from. My heart says Minnesota sweeps both games and the Battle Hymn of the Republic gets played with the MacNaughton but Wisconsin looks to have finally found themselves at the end of the season. The Badgers laid a beat down on Denver, something the Gophers couldn't do, and swept an underrated Bemidji State team on the road. With these games never being about the standings and Wisconsin playing well lately, I am going to go with my gut and say the Badgers and Gophers split two games.
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