Wisconsin hosts perennial power Miami this weekend - Elsa (Getty Images Sport)
Wisconsin hosts Miami in an exceptionally important non-conference series this weekend at the Kohl Center.
The quirkiness of the 2012-13 Wisconsin men's hockey season seems to find new heights every week. Last weekend at Minnesota State was no exception, as the Badgers were able to pull out overtime victories on back-to-back nights to secure their first series sweep in Mankato, ever.
Not only had the Badgers never swept in Mankato, but Wisconsin hadn't won an overtime game on the road in WCHA play since Nov. 3rd, 2006 against Alaska-Anchorage. During that streak, Wisconsin was 0-10-20 in overtime games played on the road.
Not that the victories needed any more unconventionality, but both overtime goals were scored by defenseman John Ramage. Certainly not known for his offensive prowess, Ramage came into the weekend with just two goals on the season, and just eight in his entire career.
Wisconsin's two victories on the road last weekend over previously 11th ranked Minnesota State pushed Wisconsin over the .500 mark for the first time all season, and extended their current unbeaten streak to 10 games.
The Badgers will put their streak on the line this weekend against another talented opponent, as CCHA foe Miami comes to town for a huge non-conference series at the Kohl Center. Miami rolls into Madison ranked 8th in the country with an impressive 12-5-5 record.
The biggest key to success last weekend for Wisconsin was finding offense from unlikely sources. All six of Wisconsin's goals last weekend came from guys that came into the weekend with two goals or less.
The Badgers' most effective line over the weekend was their "grind line" that features Jefferson Dahl centering Ryan and Sean Little. On top of playing near-perfect systems all weekend, the line that's not known for offense carried Wisconsin up front. Ryan Little notched his third goal of the season Friday, and Dahl netted his second and third goals over the weekend. Sean Little chipped in four assists on the weekend, his first four of the season.
Wisconsin's top-two lines were relatively quiet for most of the weekend, but both units dominated at times despite not being rewarded on the score-sheet.
Noticeably quiet since his return from a finger injury has been junior top-line center Mark Zengerle. Projected as a First-Team All-WCHA player coming into the season, Zengerle has just two goals and three assists in eight games since he returned from injury.
BADGERS DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
Another outstanding weekend on the back-end of things for the Badgers. Since defensive coach Matt Walsh replaced assistant coach Bill Butters on the UW staff, Wisconsin has allowed just 14 total goals in 10 games.
The recent run of success starts between the pipes, where Wisconsin has gotten outstanding play from two different players. Landon Peterson played well enough to win on Friday night, turning aside 30 of 33 shots, and Joel Rumpel was brilliant on Saturday stopping 35 of 36.
As Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reported this week, Eaves is tweaking his goalie rotation this weekend and will start Rumpel in net Friday. This will be the first Friday that Rumpel has started since Nov. 30th at Denver.
As previously mentioned, the Badgers received goals from some unlikely sources last weekend, and that includes some defensemen that aren't known for their ability to put the puck in the net, highlighted by John Ramage.
Another blue-liner to step up was junior Joe Faust, who scored his first goal of the season. Trailing the play on a line rush, Faust stepped into a nice drop pass from Derek Lee and ripped it into the net to give Wisconsin their first lead on Friday night.
Not that they're offensively inept by any means, but the Miami offense isn't as high flying as they've been in recent years with players like Andy Miele and Carter Camper. The Redhawks come into the weekend ranked 37th in scoring offense at 2.50 goals per game.
Up front this season Miami is led by some talented underclassmen. Sophomore Austin Czarnick holds the team lead in points with 25, and not far behind is his line-mate Riley Barber. The other wing on that line, senior Curtis McKenzie, is third on the team in scoring.
Barber, and fellow Redhawks freshman Sean Kuraly should look familiar to Wisconsin defenseman Jake McCabe. The trio teamed up at the recent World Junior Championships to bring home a gold medal for the United States.
REDHAWKS DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
As is usually the case at Miami, the Redhawks are loaded between the pipes. This year's squad features a pair of talented freshmen in Ryan McKay and Jay Williams.
Williams has the better record at 9-3-3, but McKay's .963 save percentage and 0.97 goals against average are off the charts. Since the start of December, the pair has been on a strict rotation with Williams starting on Friday night, and McKay on Saturday. I don't expect that to change now.
Freshman defenseman Matthew Caito has been able to help the offense out while chipping in three goals and six assists from the blue-line. Caito pairs up with senior Steven Spinnell to form one of the better defensive groups in the CCHA.
Miami is ranked second in the country in scoring defense, as they are giving up an average of just 1.64 goals per game this season. This should be an outstanding test for Wisconsin's offense.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS MIAMI
- Big guns have to show up. Wisconsin didn't get much offense from their top-six last weekend, but in a huge series against an outstanding defensive club in Maimi, the Badgers must get production from guys like Zengerle and Michael Mersch.
- Get the crowd into things early. The home crowd at the Kohl Center hasn't had much to cheer about so far this season. They're ready for this one, give them something to get excited about.
- Don't get too fancy. Miami is a very smart hockey team who can kill you in transition. Wisconsin needs to play Badger hockey and work for their goals. If you get too cute, it can cost you.
BY THE NUMBERS...
||8-7-5 (6-5-5 WCHA)||12-5-5 (8-4-4 CCHA)
||2.35 (42)||2.5 (t 37)
||2.15 (10)||1.64 (2)
||10% (53)||14.4% (40)
||82.7% (34)||88.5% (8)
||6' 0.15" / 187.92 lbs.||5' 11.92" / 184.23 lbs.|
||21 years, 4 months
||21 years, 4 months|
Friday's game will be shown live nationally on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's game will be shown on FS Wisconsin +. Saturday's game will also 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.
Miami is ranked #8 in both the USCHO.com poll, and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.
Wisconsin is receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll.
Wisconsin will be without freshman winger Morgan Zulinick (thigh), and freshman defenseman Eddie Wittchow (shoulder).
Wisconsin beat Miami 3-1 in the 1993 NCAA tournament. Wisconsin owns the all-time series lead, 2-0.
Current Miami head coach Enrico Blasi played for the RedHawks in the last meeting between the two schools.
"The timing is good. We couldn't ask for a better schedule right now in terms of we're playing better. We're trying to earn some respect and climb ladders here and getting back in the RPI, and we have that opportunity this weekend if we can come in our home and take care of business."--Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves
Nic Kerdiles-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Joseph LaBate-Derek Lee-Michael Mersch
Ryan Little-Jefferson Dahl-Sean Little
Brad Navin-Brendan Woods-Keegan Meuer
Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli
Chase Drake-Joe Faust
Kevin Schulze-John Ramage
Joel Rumpel/Landon Peterson
This is obviously a huge weekend in terms of the RPI, and the PWR for Wisconsin as they attempt to come back from that early season 1-7-2 start. A win or two this weekend would go a long ways to giving the Badgers a shot at earning an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament down the road.
As previously noted, Miami is an outstanding defensive team as evidenced by them giving up the second fewest goals per game in the country. Obviously Wisconsin doesn't give much up in terms of goals either, so I think we're going to have to low-scoring, hard-fought, intense hockey games this weekend.
Miami has been on the road lately, traveling to Marquette (MI) last weekend, and now to Madison. I think the Badgers will be able to give their home crowd a treat this weekend, as they come out with a win and a tie.
Friday: Wisconsin 2, Miami 2
Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Miami 2
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