Chase Drake will be inserted into the lineup this weekend - Photo Credit: Larry Radloff/INCHWriters.com
Wisconsin kicks off their second half with a road trip to meet the Seawolves in Alaska.
Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page
Bob Seger--Turn The Page
If you were to write a book about the 2012-13 season for the Wisconsin hockey team, the first half would be more horror story than inspirational novel. The early twists and turns would undoubtedly leave you cringing at times, waiting to see how many blows this club can take and still stay on their feet.
It would start with their star incoming recruit being suspended for an excessive amount of time for a simple oversight by people giving him bad advice. It would continue with significant injuries to top players that would cripple the teams production on the ice. The suspense would thicken with the resignation of a top assistant coach at a time they could least afford another distraction.
Like any good movie or book, adversity creates opportunity. The suspended freshman would eventually return to the lineup along with the injured top players to provide an instant spark on the ice. The replacement for the departed coach would exceed expectations, creating a calming presence in the locker room.
Throughout the entire process, the head coach would never waiver from his position that this story has a happy ending. The man at the helm would confidently tell anyone that would listen that this ship is turning in the right direction, just in time for the second half.
It's time to turn the page.
The Badgers' story has already begun its ascent to the climax. Wisconsin is unbeaten in their past six games (3-0-3), and are looking to expand upon the recent success they've shown.
The second half of the story starts this weekend as the Wisconsin men's hockey team travels to the last frontier to take on Alaska Anchorage in a two-game series. The Seawolves are in the cellar of the WCHA, creating another opportunity for UW to throw a little more hay in the barn as they attempt to climb the league standings ladder.
One of the biggest stories of the first half for Wisconsin has been the lack of production in the goal scoring department. Obviously missing key forwards Nic Kerdiles, Mark Zengerle, Derek Lee, and Morgan Zulinick for a combined 27 games played a significant role.
With the exception of Zulinick, the rest are back in the lineup for Wisconsin, which provides them offensive depth they haven't had the majority of the season.
Kerdiles and Zengerle have started to create a chemistry on UW's top line along with junior winger Tyler Barnes. That group is going to be relied upon for major offensive minutes in the second half, and showed flashes in recent games of why many league analysts were excited about this Badger club heading into the season.
Junior Michael Mersch continues to lead Wisconsin offensively with his 11 goals. Along with line-mates Derek Lee and Joseph LaBate, the trio combines to provide the Badgers' with a second top line that can create match-up nightmares for the opposition.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
The bright spot of the first half for Wisconsin has been on the defensive side of things. Wisconsin features two of the top goaltenders in the entire country in Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel. Both net-minders have played outstanding so far this season, and give the Badgers an edge between the pipes anytime they take the ice.
On the blue-line, Wisconsin has found consistency in their pairings that feature a pair of freshmen in Kevin Schulze and Eddie Wittchow that have made the transition to the WCHA, and are expected to be even better as they gain experience in the league.
Veteran defensemen John Ramage, Frankie Simonelli, and Joe Faust are playing some of their best hockey since they've been on campus. All three can be relied upon in every situation, and will be key factors for this team in the second half.
Unfortunately this weekend, USA Hockey's gain is Wisconsin's loss. UW will be without star blue-liner Jake McCabe who is having an outstanding season for Wisconsin. McCabe is currently in Ufa, Russia, where he is captaining the United States U-20 team at the World Junior Championships. McCabe has had a breakout tournament, and scored a pair of goals as the United States knocked off Canada in a recent semi-final contest.
McCabe and Team U.S.A. will face Sweden in the gold medal game Saturday morning at 7 a.m. CST on the NHL Network. The game will also be streamed online on NHL.com.
In McCabe's place this weekend will be junior defenseman Chase Drake. The Mosinee, Wis. native played outstanding in a pre-season exhibition vs the United States U-18 team, but has yet to find his stride in regular season games. He'll be paired up with Simonelli this weekend.
Like Wisconsin, Alaska Anchorage has struggled to put the puck in the net this season under head coach Dave Shyiak. The Seawolves enter the weekend ranked 53rd (out of 59) in the country, averaging just two goals per game.
Anchorage also has an anemic power-play, which has found the back of the net just five times in 55 attempts so far this season.
UAA likes to stack their top line with three of their most offensively gifted players. That top group is centered by freshman Blake Tatchell who leads the Seawolves in scoring this season with 11 points in 16 games. Anchorage's leading goal scorer, Scott Allen, flanks Tatchell on the left wing along with second leading goal scorer Alex Gellert on his right.
Another player to keep an eye on up front for the Seawolves this weekend is Matt Bailey. The junior center led UAA in scoring last season, and was the only returning player to register double-digit goals last season for Anchorage.
SEAWOLVES DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
Another big reason for Anchorage's slow start this season has been the lack of ability to keep the puck out of the back of the net. UAA ranks 47th in the country in scoring defense, giving up over three goals per game this season.
Anchorage doesn't have many 'name' defenders on defense, and doesn't get much offense at all from their defensemen. Their top scorer from the blue-line is senior Scott Warner with just four points. Sophomore Derek Docken has chipped in a couple goals from the back end as well.
The Seawolves have split action between the pipes all season long between juniors Chris Kamal and Rob Gunderson. Kamal has been slightly better, and his .906 save percentage on the season is respectable. Kamal has two of the teams three wins on the season, including an upset over St. Cloud in early December.
Also noteworthy has been the success--or lack there of--on the penalty kill this season for Anchorage. So far this season, UAA ranks 52nd in the country in PK percentage, killing off just 77.3% of their penalties.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS ALASKA ANCHORAGE
- Create power play opportunities. As I just mentioned, UAA is awful on the penalty kill this season, and Wisconsin needs to take advantage. UW hasn't been good on the man advantage, but this is an opportunity to bust out of that slump.
- Move the puck. Anchorage is known as a team that likes to clog the middle of the ice and trap teams to slow them down offensively. Wisconsin needs to move the puck effectively to break the trap and create offense this weekend.
- Continue defensive dominance. UAA doesn't score many goals, and UW has been really good at keeping the puck out of the net this season. Wisconsin needs to continue to ride that wave of dominance in their own zone throughout the second half of the season.
BY THE NUMBERS...
||4-5-7 (2-5-5 WCHA)||3-9-4 (1-8-3 WCHA)
||2.19 (t 48)||2.0 (53)
||2.25 (t 13)||3.06 (t 47)
||12.8% (47)||9.1% (t 53)
||81.4% (39)||77.3% (52)
||6' 0.15" / 187.92 lbs.||6' 0.19" / 190.46 lbs.|
||21 years, 3 months
||22 years, 7 months
There will be no TV coverage this weekend, but there is thankfully a (FREE) live stream of both games courtesy of UAA. You can find a link to that stream HERE.
As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.
Neither team is ranked this season.
Wisconsin will be without the services of Morgan Zulinick (thigh).
Anchorage will be without junior winger Brett Cameron (collarbone).
Wisconsin swept Anchorage last season at the Kohl Center, 4-0, 3-2.
Wisconsin's last overtime victory in WCHA play came against the Seawolves in Anchorage all the way back in 2007.
"A couple of wins and you get rolling. The league seems more even than any year I've been here, so a couple of wins can really help you."-UAA senior center Daniel Naslund (From the Anchorage Daily News)
Nic Kerdiles-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Joseph LaBate-Derek Lee-Michael Mersch
Ryan Little-Jefferson Dahl-Sean Little
Brad Navin-Brendan Woods-Keegan Meuer
Chase Drake-Frankie Simonelli
Eddie Wittchow-Joe Faust
Kevin Schulze-John Ramage
Landon Peterson/Joel Rumpel
Wisconsin needs victories, plain and simple. They still have NCAA tournament hopes, and if they want to keep them alive they need a pair of victories this weekend. Anchorage can be a stifling team to play against at times with their slow style of play, but Wisconsin needs to take the offensive and make things happen.
Wisconsin is as healthy as they've been all season long, although the loss of McCabe this weekend hurts. I see the Badgers as the much better team on paper, and I think they'll take a pair this weekend.
Friday: Wisconsin 4, Anchorage 2
Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Anchorage 1
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