Hockey Series Preview: Bemidji State at Wisconsin

BSU Athletic Media Relations

The Badgers look to keep pace in the upper half of the WCHA this weekend when they host WCHA foe Bemidji State at the Kohl Center for a two-game series.

Trap Game

Definition: A "Trap Game" is a game that is played before or after a tough or rival opponent. Teams have a tendency to look past an opponent preparing for the following week's game, or have a letdown after beating a tough or rival opponent.

Potential Examples: Wisconsin hosting Bemidji State one week after a hard fought series vs. North Dakota, and one week before No. 1 ranked Minnesota comes to town for a two-game series that includes an outdoor game at Soldier Field in Chicago.

It's hard to look at this weekend's series between Wisconsin and Bemidji and not see the giant mouse trap waiting for the Badgers. After all, the Beavers are in 11th place in the WCHA, and haven't won a game over their past 10 contests. Bemidji has recorded just 14 goals over that time-span, while giving up 36.

Meanwhile the Badgers have lost just twice over their past 16, and have much bigger fish to fry down the road, especially next weekend when the top ranked Gophers find their way down I-94.

But that's exactly what the Beavers are hoping for, to catch the Badgers looking ahead. On paper, the Badgers are the clear favorites, but if Wisconsin thinks they're going to walk through the motions to earn four points this weekend, they've got another thing coming.

When asked about a potential trap game this week, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted that they have to make a conscious effort in practice this week to drive home the importance of bringing intensity both nights.

"It's kind of a dangerous situation," Eaves said. "This week in practice is about playing at a high pace, and dictating on Friday and Saturday night, so that's our focus going into this weekend."

At this point in the season, the Badgers are in sixth place in the WCHA. To stay in the top half of the league to earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs, Wisconsin needs to keep earning league points, and it starts this weekend against Bemidji.

"We have to focus on what we need to do in order to keep getting points," Eaves noted. "Because that's what it's all about right now."

UW junior center Mark Zengerle was on Brian Posick's radio show earlier this week on The Big 1070 in Madison, and noted that getting beat up by North Dakota last Saturday has the team focused on the week ahead.

"This weekend's going to be huge for us," Zengerle said. "Maybe getting a loss like that (against UND), getting beat up like that was maybe a little reality check for us."

WISCONSIN OFFENSE

For the second weekend in a row, the health of Derek Lee is in question for the Badgers. The senior center suffered a concussion two weeks ago against Alaska-Anchorage, and hasn't been cleared to return just yet. Lee did skate this week, which is a good sign, but he won't play on Friday. There is still an outside chance he could return Saturday.

Last weekend the Badgers produced just two goals, which is obviously frustrating for a team that has struggled to put points on the board the entire season. One of the goals came on Friday night off the stick of Michael Mersch, and would prove vital as the teams skated to a 1-1 draw. However, the only other goal came on Saturday after the Badgers were already down by four goals.

One of the intriguing notes from Saturday's contest was the playing time -- or lack there of -- from Mersch in the third period. With the Badgers trailing by four goals heading into the final period of the weekend, Mersch saw limited action down the stretch. Considering the Park Ridge, Ill., native has 10 more goals than anyone else on the roster, it seemed like a curious time to bench your star winger.

Could it have been a wake-up call for Mersch who clearly didn't have his best effort of the season in the first two periods on Saturday? Certainly seems that way.

Judging by the way Mersch responded late in the game, I think it's clear that he got the message. With both teams jawing after a huge scuffle that saw multiple players receive 10-minute misconducts, Mersch jumped out onto the ice to fight noted North Dakota tough guy Stephane Pattyn. The referees got to the players before a punch was ever thrown, but from the outside looking in, it certainly looked like a young man who was trying to prove something to his coach.

If that's the case, I'd look for Mersch to do something big for the Badgers this weekend on the score-sheet.

WISCONSIN DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

Last weekend was noteworthy on the defensive side of things, as it was the first time in his career that Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson was pegged to start both nights of a series. The sophomore from Oregon, Wisc., certainly earned the extra start from his play on Friday night, where his effort on multiple point blank chances from North Dakota forwards was enough to earn the Badgers a point.

While Peterson was solid last weekend, I'd be stunned if we didn't get a look at fellow sophomore Joel Rumpel in the cage this weekend. Both guys are playing phenomenal hockey at this stage of the season, and they are the biggest reason why the Badgers can even talk about things like home ice in the WCHA tournament, and possibly the NCAA tournament down the road.

How good has Rumpel been lately? Arguably the best in the nation since the start of the new year, if statistics are your thing. Since January 1st, Rumpel leads the country in save percentage (.958), and goals-against average (0.99). He's 4-1 in his past five games, which includes two shutouts.

One casualty of the weekend in Grand Forks was defenseman Jake McCabe. The sophomore blue-liner suffered an ankle injury when he got tangled up with a few bodies on Saturday night. McCabe had to be helped off the ice, and was in noticeable pain.

Like Lee, Eaves noted that McCabe won't play on Friday night, but refused to rule him out for the entire weekend. Thankfully the Badgers have decent depth on the back-end, with guys like junior Chase Drake steady enough to step in and make a seamless transition into the lineup.

BEMIDJI STATE OFFENSE

Like the Badgers, Bemidji's offense has been truly putrid this season, which has really limited its ability to win hockey games in the WCHA. Unlike the Badgers, the Beavers don't have the defense to make up for their deficiencies on the offensive end.

The Beavers are led up front by Madison product Jordan George, who has been a thorn in the Badgers' side ever since he decided to lace them up for Bemidji. The former Madison Edgwood high school star has a goal in both series he's played against his hometown Badgers.

George took an nontraditional route to the WCHA, playing midget hockey for the Russell Stover program out of Kansas City before moving on to the Topeka Roadrunners of the NAHL. Wisconsin didn't recruit the 5-foot-8 George, and the Badgers' oversight has been the Beavers' gain.

Through 138 career games in a Beaver uniform, George has accumulated 57 goals and 59 assists for 116 points in his four-year career. This season, George has eight goals and seven assists, and is as lethal as ever with the puck on his stick.

This weekend George will be flanked by a pair of players who have also been around for a long time in fellow seniors Aaron McLeod and Ben Kinne. McLeod leads the team in goals with 10, and Kinne is a former double-digit goal scorer himself.

Wisconsin will also have to watch out for the Beavers' line centered by junior Jeff Jubinville. Senior Brance Orban is the left-wing on that line, and leads the team in assists with 12, and points with 17.

BEMIDJI STATE DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS

For the Beavers to have success this weekend against Wisconsin, they're going to have to find one of their two goaltenders to step up to the plate this weekend. Bemidji has played two goalies, sophomore Andrew Walsh and senior Mathieu Dugas, to varying degrees of success.

Walsh has received the majority of the action, playing in 18 contests to Dugas' 9, and is also the more talented of the two. However, Walsh was pulled last Friday night after a shaky start against St. Cloud, and Dugas found himself back between the pipes for game two after coming in to replace Walsh in the opener.

Earlier in the week Bemidji head coach Tom Serratore told the Bemidji Pioneer that he hadn't made up his mind on who would start for the Beavers this week, but that he felt pretty good about both guys.

"The goaltenders are playing alright," Serratore said. "They're not playing lights out, but they're not playing bad. If they're playing lights out, they're going to win games for you. But the coaches have no issues with our goaltending right now."

The biggest loss off of last season's Bemidji club was defenseman Brad Hunt, who was arguably the best defenseman to wear a Beaver sweater in the D1 era. Hunt was one of the rare defensemen in college hockey to record over 100 points, as he finished his Beaver career with 112 points in 150 games.

Since Hunt's departure, the Beavers have struggled to find people to start the offense from the back-end, much like what the Badgers are going through without Justin Schultz.

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS BEMIDJI STATE

  1. Shots, shots, shots, shots. The Badgers out-chanced North Dakota on Friday night, and they're going to need to do it again this weekend against the Beavers to have success. BSU isn't the best defensive team in the country, and the Badgers need to take advantage.
  2. Continue the physicality from the UND series. Last weekend was a very hard-hitting weekend on both sides, and if the Badgers can stay physical, they should be able to wear teams like Bemidji down as the game wears on.
  3. Take a few risks offensively. Against an offensively challenged team like Bemidji, it's ok from time-to-time for a team to take a calculated risk by sending an extra defenseman on the rush once in a while.

BY THE NUMBERS


Wisconsin
Bemidji State
Record
11-9-6 (8-6-6 WCHA) 5-16-5 (4-12-4 WCHA)
Scoring Offense
2.23 (t 49) 2.04 (55)
Scoring Defense
2.04 (5) 3.12 (48)
Power Play
10.3% (56) 15.6% (36)
Penalty Kill
81.4% (39) 79.8% (46)
Pairwise Ranking
22 NA
RPI
21 54
KRACH
19
49
Ave. Height/Weight
6' 0.15" / 187.92 lbs. 5' 11.26" / 183.74 lbs.
Ave. Age
21 years, 4 months
22 years, 9 months

COVERAGE

There is no TV this weekend, but both games can be watched online on InsideBadgerSports.com ($).

Cost for a one month subscription is just $10. However, if you don't want recurring charges, make sure you cancel your account after Saturday's game, as they will continue to bill you every month if you don't.

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

POLLS

Wisconsin checks in this week at #19 in the USCHO.com poll. They are not ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Bemidji State is not ranked.

INJURIES

Derek Lee (concussion) and Jake McCabe (ankle) are out on Friday for the Badgers, but are questionable for Saturday. Morgan Zulinick (thigh) is out this weekend.

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin swept the Beavers in Bemidji last season, 4-2, 4-2.

FUN FACT

Wisconsin will honor its 1983 National Championship team between periods on Friday night. Former Badger, and member of that 1983 team Chris Chelios is the honorary captain, and will drop the ceremonial first puck before the game.

QUOTABLE

"Right now it's the time of the year where we're struggling. It's been tough on us. You hope you don't go through a stretch like this, but we are right now and we've got to scratch and claw our way out of it."--Bemidji head coach Tom Serratore on his teams recent 10-game winless streak.

PROJECTED LINEUP (TBD)

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 Schulze-John Ramage
Eddie Wittchow-Joe Faust
Chase Drake-Frankie Simonelli

Joel Rumpel/Landon Peterson

PREDICTION

There's no question that this has to be a four point weekend for the Badgers should they continue to carry hopes of earning an at-large birth in the NCAA tournament. Every point is crucial at this time of the season, and there's no reason why the Badgers can't find a way to take all four from the Beavers.

I expect two low scoring games given the style of each of these two teams, but I think the Badgers escape the Beaver trap and send BSU back up to Bemidji empty handed.

Friday: Wisconsin 3, Bemidji 1

Saturday: Wisconsin 2, Bemidji 1

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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