Wisconsin at North Dakota WCHA Hockey Series Preview

Carter Rowney and UND look to halt Wisconsin's WCHA unbeaten streak - Brace Hemmelgarn (USA Today Sports)

The two teams face off this weekend for the last time in the regular season as members of the WCHA.

Wisconsin's WCHA farewell tour continues this weekend as the Badgers travel to Grand Forks to take on long-time rival North Dakota. Wisconsin and UND have quite the history, as the two teams have played many memorable games over years.

North Dakota was actually Wisconsin's first opponent when it joined the WCHA back in 1969. The Badgers shocked many that weekend, sweeping the then-nicknamed Fighting Sioux 8-4, 7-4 in Grand Forks to earn their first ever WCHA victories.

One game that no one will ever forget happened back in 1982. Of course, I'm referring to the infamous Water Bottle Game that saw an all-out brawl ensue at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison after Wisconsin's John Newberry squirted UND's Cary Eades in the face with a water bottle.

Later that same season, Wisconsin swept North Dakota in the WCHA playoffs, but UND eventually got the last laugh. The Sioux meet the Badgers in the NCAA title game in Providence, where North Dakota took home the crown, defeating Wisconsin 5-2.

Wisconsin fans will likely remember the 1983 WCHA playoff game in which a last second goal from Chris Chelios forced overtime. Three extra sessions later, UW's Paul Hauk notched a short-handed tally to send the Badgers to the WCHA playoff championship.

North Dakota and Wisconsin went on to meet up twice for the WCHA playoff crown in a three-year span in the late 1990s. The Badgers got the better end in 1998, besting North Dakota 3-2, while UND had the upper hand in 2000, taking the Final Five crown with a 5-3 victory over the Badgers at the Target Center.

North Dakota's thrilling win over Wisconsin in the 2008 NCAA tournament at the Kohl Center is another game that will likely never be forgotten. The Badgers led 2-0 heading into the third period, but goals from Rylan Kaip and Ryan Duncan sent the game to overtime. UND's Andrew Kozek was the eventual hero, notching the game-winner in the extra session and sending North Dakota to the Frozen Four.

In a rivalry like this, you could go on all day talking about memorable moments. Other ones that are sure to come to mind include Robbie Earl's OT winner for Wisconsin back in 2004, and of course, David Hukalo scoring in overtime on back-to-back nights to sweep UND at the Kohl Center in 2000.

Regardless of whatever side of the rivalry you're on, there's no denying that the history between Wisconsin and North Dakota is special. Considering this is the last time these two teams will meet as members of the WCHA, there's no question that this weekend's games have more on the line than your traditional four WCHA points.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves has seen the rivalry as a player, and as a coach. Speaking at his weekly press conference Monday, Eaves talked about this being one of those types of weekends that college hockey is all about.

"It's a great place to play, first of all," Eaves said. "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."

WISCONSIN OFFENSE

The news of the week on the Badger front has been the loss of Derek Lee. The senior center was on the receiving end of a high hit courtesy of Alaska-Anchorage defenseman Austin Sevalrud last Saturday night and has been ruled out for this weekend due to a concussion.

Lee is obviously an important piece for the Badgers, as he leads the team in assists with 16 and is second in total points with 19, trailing only Michael Mersch. Lee is also an integral part of Wisconsin's revamped power-play unit, which showed signs of life last weekend for the first time all season.

In Lee's place this weekend will likely be Jefferson Dahl. The junior center stepped up on Saturday night with a goal and an assist in UW's 2-1 win over Anchorage. Not known for his scoring touch, Dahl has recorded five points in his past six games, and has showed an added dimension in his game in the second half of the season.

With Dahl moving up, that means that sophomore Brendan Woods will fill his spot between the Little brothers on Wisconsin's grind-line. Woods is a player who was expected to score for Wisconsin, but has been snakebitten much of the season, mostly due to his limited role on the fourth line.

WISCONSIN DEFENSE AND GOALTENDERS

Wisconsin's goaltenders were the story once again last weekend, allowing just three goals over the two-game series. Landon Peterson and Joel Rumpel are starting to look like one of the best goaltending tandems in the entire country, if they aren't the best already.

Of course, much of their success has to do with the play of the guys in front of them, which starts with Wisconsin's defensive core. The Badgers allowed just 14 shots on goal in Friday night's contest, which is absurd at this level.

The Badgers will see another piece return this weekend on the back-end, as freshman Eddie Wittchow has been cleared to play after a shoulder injury sidelined him for five games. Junior Chase Drake filled in nicely during Wittchow's absence, so the Badgers have some options this weekend if they don't like what they see in the opener on Friday night.

NORTH DAKOTA OFFENSE

Everything for North Dakota starts up front with its one-two punch of Danny Kristo and Corban Knight. The two seniors are the highest scoring pair of forwards in the country, and both have reached the century mark in terms of total points during their careers.

Kristo has been a thorn in Wisconsin's side ever since he arrived in Grand Forks. In fact, the Eden Prairie, Minn., native has 10 career points against the Badgers (five goals, five assists) in just eight games. Knight has chipped in six points (two goals, four assists) against Wisconsin during his UND career.

Kristo and Knight are expected to be flanked by red-shirt freshman winger Rocco Grimaldi this weekend. Grimaldi is a familiar face to Wisconsin's Jake McCabe, as the two were teammates at the National Team Development program for two years. They were also both on the United States club that brought home a gold medal over New Years from the World Junior Championships.

While North Dakota's top unit receives most of the headlines -- and for obvious reasons -- they've got talent up and down the lineup. Second-line center Carter Rowney was an 18-goal, 33-point performer last season for UND and has the ability to strike at any time.

Other guys to watch for this weekend include sophomore winger Mark MacMillian, freshman Drake Caggiulla and speedy Joe Gleason, who could see time at both forward and defense this weekend depending on how things are going.

NORTH DAKOTA DEFENSE AND GOALTENDERS

Defensively, UND boasts one of the top blue-lines in college hockey. Led by veterans Derek Forbort and Andrew MacWilliam, UND has a blend of toughness and finesse that every great hockey team is looking for on the back-end.

One obviously noteworthy player in this group is Verona, Wisc., native Jordan Schmaltz. The one-time Wisconsin commit backed out of his verbal to the Badgers after Mark Osiecki left the program to take the head coaching job at Ohio State. Schmaltz has become the elite player Wisconsin expected when it offered him a scholarship as an 8th grader, and he was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the NHL Draft this past summer.

While MacWilliam, Forbort and Schmaltz may grab headlines, UND is solid one-through-six, or even maybe seven. Nick Mattson has offensive flair, as does Gleason who we mentioned previously. Dillion Simpson sort of flies under the radar at times, but the junior has 14 points on the season while playing solid two-way hockey.

In between the pipes, UND has a pair of goaltenders who have both seen action recently. Alabama-Huntsville transfer Clarke Saunders looked like the go-to guy for a while, but freshman Zane Gothberg played himself back into the conversation recently. Saunders is probably the more technically sound net-minder at this point, but Gothberg's upside is considerably higher.

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS. NORTH DAKOTA

  1. Stay out of the penalty box. North Dakota has some of the most lethal offensive weapons in the entire country. Giving UND extra time and space is a dangerous combination.
  2. Play a smart road game. I've brought this up before, but it's crucial in tough environments. That means getting pucks deep when you don't have an entry, finishing checks, making sure you get pucks out of your zone on the breakout. Little things win big games.
  3. Test the North Dakota goaltenders. Both UND net-minders are good, but I'm not sure either are elite. Don't be afraid to throw an odd angle shot on net in hopes of a rebound, because they will give them up.

BY THE NUMBERS


Wisconsin
North Dakota
Record
11-8-5 (8-5-5 WCHA) 13-8-5 (8-5-5 WCHA)
Scoring Offense
2.33 (44) 3.23 (12)
Scoring Defense
2.00 (5) 2.65 (30)
Power Play
11.4% (51) 21.2% (15)
Penalty Kill
82.4% (35) 82.3% (t 36)
Pairwise Ranking
23 10
RPI
21 10
KRACH
18
10
Ave. Height/Weight
6' 0.15" / 187.92 lbs. 6' 0.42" / 189.15 lbs.
Ave. Age
21 years, 4 months
21 years, 6 months

COVERAGE

Both games this weekend can be seen live on the Fox College Sports channel. I know some providers don't carry it -- including Dish -- so make sure you look into your situation before game time.

There is also a video stream ($) on the UND athletics website. LINK

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

POLLS

North Dakota is ranked No. 7 in the USCHO.com poll and No. 8 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Wisconsin is ranked No. 19 in the USCHO.com poll, but is not ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

INJURIES

Wisconsin will be without freshman Morgan Zulinick (thigh) and Derek Lee (concussion).

LAST MEETING

North Dakota swept the Badgers in Grand Forks last January, 5-3, 4-2.

FUN FACT

Wisconsin junior forward Mark Zengerle is just one point away from becoming the 71st Badger to join the 100-point club. Zengerle has amassed his 99 points (22 goals, 77 assists) in 96 career games. If Zengerle reaches 100 points before 100 games, he'll join Joe Pavelski as just the second player in the Mike Eaves era to do so.

In addition to Pavelski, Robbie Earl, Blake Geoffrion, Justin Schultz, Michael Davies and Ryan MacMurchy all reached 100 points under Eaves' watch.

QUOTABLE

"It's easy to coach these weekends because kids will be all elevated in their emotions and their want and everything like that. We just have to fine tune that. Probably pull the reins in a little bit, get a good game plan together as what we need to exercise because it's a small rink, and go from there. But this will be a fun weekend." — Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves

PROJECTED LINEUP

Joseph LaBate-Mark Zengerle-Michael Mersch
Nic Kerdiles-Jefferson Dahl-Tyler Barnes
Ryan Little-Brendan Woods-Sean Little
Brad Navin-Keegan Meuer-Matt Paape

Kevin Schlze-John Ramage
Eddie Wittchow-Joe Faust
Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli

Joel Rumpel/Landon Peterson

PREDICTION

Well, this is obviously a pretty tough one to handicap on a number of different levels. With both teams tied in the standings for fourth place at 21 points, obviously a lot is on the line this weekend. Wisconsin has played like a new team over its past 14 games, losing just once.

I hate to take the easy way out and call a split, but I'm not sure I see any other result this weekend. It's going to be a playoff-like atmosphere at Ralph Engelstad Arena, and I expect to see two outstanding hockey games. I'll say North Dakota jumps out with a win on Friday, but Wisconsin salvages a split in the finale.

Friday: North Dakota 3, Wisconsin 2

Saturday: Wisconsin 4, North Dakota 3

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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