This weekend's series between Wisconsin and North Dakota carries significance on a number of levels. As if the rivalry needed any extra spark, the two long-time rivals are currently tied for fourth place in the WCHA with 21 league points. In the tighter-than-ever WCHA, the two clubs are just four points out of first, but are also just two points ahead of eighth place Minnesota-Duluth.
The series also carries historical significance, as it's the last time these two programs will meet in the regular season as members of the WCHA. At the conclusion of the season, Wisconsin will head to the Big Ten Hockey conference, while North Dakota will join the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).
After 161 meetings -- UW leads the series, 86-64-11 -- it would be a shame for the rivalry to end with the upcoming conference realignment. That's why, according to Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, it was a priority to ensure the two teams had a non-conference scheduling agreement in the future.
"A great rivalry, great history," Eaves said. "Both programs wanted to do that and keep it going. It actually was a conversation that wasn't very long with (Dave) Hakstol, their head coach, and we both reached out and both said, 'Let's get this done,' and we were able to do so."
Because of Wisconsin's policy against playing non-conference opponents with Native American nicknames, the rivalry will take a one-year hiatus while North Dakota finalizes the process of retiring its Sioux nickname. However, a four-year agreement has been scheduled to begin with the 2014-15 season.
In his weekly press conference Monday, Eaves gushed about playing in an atmosphere like UND's Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"It's a great place to play, first of all," Eaves noted. "If I'm a college athlete or just an athlete in general, you're playing in front of 11,000 fans, and the rink is designed such they're right on top of you. They're a good team. There's a great rivalry."
Eaves noted these are the types of weekends you look forward to when you come to Wisconsin.
"These are the kind of weekends that are fun," Eaves said. "The challenge is there, to go in as a group of 22 young men and the coaching staff and support staff and try to get into their camp and steal some ponies and get out of town is a great challenge."
"It's easy to coach these weekends."
Additional Scheduling Notes
With Wisconsin moving to the Big Ten next season, there will be significant differences on the schedule in future seasons. With just six teams in the league, there will be a 20-game league schedule, as opposed to the current 28-game league schedule the Badgers play in the WCHA.
Wisconsin will play two games at home and two games on the road vs. every team in the Big Ten. That means yearly road trips to Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Sate College, Minneapolis and Columbus.
The future hockey schedule will look similar in structure to the way the Badgers' basketball schedule is laid out. The majority of the non-conference games will take place in the first half, with the Big Ten schedule back-loaded in the second half of the season.
With its remaining 14 games, Wisconsin will fill out its schedule with seven non-conference series. In an average year, five of those will be played at the Kohl Center, while the Badgers will travel for two non-league series.
Andy Baggot from the Wisconsin State Journal also dropped some future scheduling info on us this week that is noteworthy.
Baggot reports that next season's HOME non-conference opponents will be Lake Superior State, Colorado College, Alabama-Huntsville, Northern Michigan and Alaska-Anchorage. The Badgers' ROAD non-conference opponents will be Miami and Boston College/Boston University.
Wisconsin will play two games versus each opponent, with the exception of the Boston schools where they will play each team one night.
Starting in 2014-15, Wisconsin will play one series per season with North Dakota, rotating between Madison and Grand Forks.
The agreement with the Boston schools will be similar to one that Wisconsin has tentatively set up with Colorado College and Denver. Season one will see the Badgers travel to Boston to play both teams each one night, while one of the Colorado schools will come to Madison for a full series. Year two will see the Badgers travel to Colorado to play both teams one night, while one of the Boston schools will come to Madison for a full series. Teams will then flip-flop for years three and four.
2013-14: Wisconsin at Boston University/Boston College (one night each), Colorado College at Wisconsin (x2).
2014-15: Wisconsin at CC/Denver (one night each), Boston University at Wisconsin (x2).
2015-16: Wisconsin at Boston University/Boston College (one night each), Denver at Wisconsin (x2).
2016-17: Wisconsin at CC/Denver (one night each), Boston College at Wisconsin (x2).
Wisconsin (tentative) Yearly Non-Conference Opponents
ROAD--Miami, Boston College/Boston University (one night each)
2014-15: HOME--North Dakota, Michigan Tech, Boston University
ROAD--Denver/Colorado College (one night each)
ROAD--North Dakota, BC/BU (one night each)
2016-17: HOME--North Dakota, Boston College
ROAD--CC/Denver (one night each)
2017-18: ROAD--North Dakota
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