Hockey Series Preview: Northern Michigan University

Wisconsin opens up the regular season with a two-game series vs Northern Michigan Friday and Saturday at the Resch Center in Green Bay.

Alright, already the show goes on
all night, till the morning we dream so long
anybody ever wonder, when they would see the sun up
just remember when you come up
the show goes on

Lupe Fiasco--The Show Goes On

No team goes through an entire season without a bit of adversity. The Wisconsin men's hockey team wasted no time, facing a catastrophe right off the bat when freshman Nic Kerdiles was ruled ineligible by the NCAA last Friday.

The news was shocking, as the NCAA ruled that Kerdiles violated an amateurism violation for his relationship with the sports agency Pulver Sports. The punishment was harsh—a full one-year suspension.

Every person associated with the Wisconsin hockey program felt like they took a punch to the gut this week from Mike Tyson.

Wisconsin is currently appealing the ruling, and the case will be heard October 18th. Unfortunately, that leaves the Badgers without the services of their blue-chip left wing this weekend.

But as they say, the show must go on.

Last weekend the Badgers kicked off their season with an exhibition game vs the United States under 18 team at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin took care of business, besting the NTDP squad 5-0.

Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves liked some things that he saw out of his club in the exhibition, but says it's time to ramp up the intensity.

"We did some very good things, things that we tried to plant in our limited time together, but there was a lot of bad habits that went on," Eaves said.

"As of today, summer hockey is over."

Five different Badgers scored in the contest, including freshmen Kevin Schulze and Morgan Zulinick. Mark Zengerle, Chase Drake, and Brendan Woods rounded out the scoring for Wisconsin.

Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson split the 23-save shutout.

Eaves noted an early season emphasis will be the play of his team when they don't have the puck.

"The better we are without the puck, the more we'll have it because we'll get it back."

Seems simple enough, but it's amazing how much better teams are when they can take away time and space and control the time of possession. More possession means more opportunities to score, and ultimately more wins.

BADGER OFFENSE

Last season the Badgers set a University record for the least amount of shots taken on the season. That contributed in large part to why they finished 10th in the WCHA in scoring last year. Shots on goal will be an early point of emphasis for this Badger club.

The Wisconsin forwards are expected to be much improved, since they didn't lose anyone up front who scored a goal last season. In fact, the only two losses were sophomore Jason Clark (2 career points) who signed with the New York Islanders, and freshman Tyler Lapic (0 career points).

Junior forward Mark Zengerle is back in the fold, and he's the leading returning scorer in college hockey. Zengerle is expected to center Wisconsin's top line this weekend, with classmate Tyler Barnes on one wing, and sophomore Joseph LaBate on the other.

Without Kerdiles, the Badgers were forced to shuffle their lines around a little bit this week. The blue-chip Badger freshman was projected to play on the top line with Mark Zengerle, but LaBate will fill that void while we await the results of Kerdiles' appeal with the NCAA.

LaBate, who is an NHL draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks showed flashes of great things last season. His second season in Madison could be a breakout year for the rangy winger. As is often the case with young players, finding consistency will be one of the biggest keys for LaBate this season.

Wisconsin's second line this weekend will feature senior Derek Lee in the middle between Matt Paape and Michael Mersch. Paape was projected to be a healthy scratch, but Eaves inserted the sophomore into the lineup after he announced that freshman Morgan Zulinick wouldn't play Friday.

Zulinick looked impressive in the opener, and scored a nifty breakaway goal.

Unfortunately, Eaves noted this week that Zulinick needs to take better care of his off ice responsibilities, and will be sitting at least the first game of the weekend.

An intriguing third scoring line has been put together by the coaching staff revolving around sophomores Brendan Woods and Brad Navin. Woods will be in the middle with Navin on one wing, and red-shirt junior Keegan Meuer on the other.

Navin (7th round, Buffalo) was selected in the 2011 NHL Draft, and Woods (5th round, Carolina) was taken in the past draft that was held in June. The pair are both big bodied guys with NHL caliber shots. I would expect significant jumps in their production from year-one to year-two.

The line that in my opinion separates Wisconsin from a lot of teams, is the shut-down group centered by Jefferson Dahl. This weekend Dahl will have the Little brothers (Ryan and Sean) on his wings. All three players are outstanding penalty killers, and can provide a spark when called upon.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES

As expected, all-world defenseman Justin Schultz gave up his final season in Madison to sign an NHL contract. Schultz is currently playing with the Oklahoma City Barrons of the American Hockey League while the NHL is locked out.

Schultz will certainly be a big loss, but the Badgers have a solid stable of defensemen expected to step up. One of those expected to play a big role this season is sophomore Jake McCabe.

Eaves noted this week how McCabe blossomed in the Badgers playoff series vs Denver last year.

"It was tough to get a real read on Jake because of his injury early in the year," Eaves said during his weekly media availability Monday.

"But in that series, (McCabe) blossomed under the kind of potential that this young man would hopefully be able to provide for us and maybe at the next level."

Back again for his fourth and final year in Madison is John Ramage. Once again Ramage will captain the Badgers, joining a rare list of two-time captains at Wisconsin.

Eaves and defensive coach Bill Butters will lean on Ramage, but will also look for veterans Joe Faust and Frankie Simonelli to take another step in their development. Simonelli added some offense to his game last year, notching 19 points.

Two young blue-liners could see action this weekend in Eddie Wittchow and Kevin Schulze. As previously mentioned, Schulze notched a goal in the exhibition game last weekend.

Between the pipes I would expect both Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson to see action this weekend. Rumpel took the reigns toward the end of the season last year and ran with the job, but Peterson is a crucial member of this team as well.

Eaves noted that just because Rumpel played well down the stretch, he has to continue to play well because he knows he's got a quality player coming for his job.

"As good as Joel played at the end of the year, he's got to do it again. And if he doesn't do it again, he's going to know who's knocking right on the door," Eaves said.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN OFFENSE

Up front, the Wildcats will be without the services of their top two scorers from last season in Justin Florek (36 points) and Tyler Gron (37 points) who both graduated. NMU also graduated 20 point producer Andrew Cherniwchan.

The Wildcats leading returning scorer should be familiar to Badger fans, as he's a former Wisconsin player. Of course I'm talking about Matt Thurber, who was kicked off the team after an altercation with his girlfriend while he was enrolled at UW.

Thurber is a senior now, and recorded 30 points for Northern Michigan last season. You know there isn't a player in that locker room who wants to win these two games more than the Beaver Dam native.

Northern Michigan also features a pair of talented juniors up front with Reed Seckel and Stephan Vigier who both topped the 20 point mark last season.

Freshman Cohen Adair was a point per game scorer in two seasons in the British Columbia Hockey League with Powell River, and is expected to be an immediate contributor for NMU.

NORTHERN MICHIGAN DEFENSE & GOALIES

Last year Northern Michigan gave up 2.76 goals per game, which is ironically the same number posted by Wisconsin. The Wildcats return their entire defensive core, and that should be one of their stronger parts of their roster this season.

Kyle Follmer chipped in 26 points from the blue-line, and Scott Macauly (17 points) and Mitch Jones (14 points) can also make things happen on both ends of the ice.

Wade Epp and C.J. Ludwig are two of the Wildcats best defensive-defensemen, and have gained a reputation in the CCHA of being shut-down guys.

In net you can expect to see junior Jared Coreau between the pipes both nights. With the graduation of Reid Ellingson, Coreau has the job full time and is one of the better tenders in the CCHA.

Last season Coreau was 12-7-2, and posted a ridiculous .928 save percentage. Team success starts from the net out, and the Wildcats have a good start with Coreau in the cage.

THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS NORTHERN MICHIGAN

  1. Get pucks to the net. Last season Wisconsin really struggled getting shots on goal, and that trend continued last weekend. Even though the Badgers scored five goals, they only put 19 shots on net. Last season Wisconsin averaged 26.4 shots per game. They need to get that number closer to 30 if they want to consistently put the puck in the net.
  2. Play like the veteran team that they are. No longer can they use the excuse that they have a young club. This is an experienced group as they bring back almost every member of last years club. You don't get many chances to do special things at this level. This club needs to take advantage of their opportunities.
  3. Dictate the tempo from the start. Piggybacking off the experience, there aren't very many freshman who are going to be playing this weekend. That mans that this club needs to set the tone from the drop of the puck. Almost all these guys have played at this level, and know what it takes to win hockey games.

COVERAGE

Unfortunately there is no live television coverage of this weekends series at the Resch Center in Green Bay. As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.

There is also a webcast ($) through americaonesports.com (LINK HERE)

POLLS

Wisconsin is ranked #15 in both the USCHO.com, and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

Northern Michigan is unranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, and is receiving votes in the USCHO poll.

INJURIES

Jake McCabe missed last Saturday's contest with an undisclosed upper body injury, but he'll be ready to go this weekend.

LAST MEETING

Wisconsin and Northern Michigan split last year at the Kohl Center. Northern Michigan won on Friday 3-2 in overtime, and Wisconsin won Saturday 3-2 in regulation.

Wisconsin leads the all-time series 44-25-6.

FUN FACT

Wisconsin is 4-0-1 all time at the Resch Center. Wisconsin won the 2006 NCAA Midwest Regional at the Resch Center, defeating Bemidji State before topping Cornell 1-0 in a classic triple overtime thriller to send the Badgers to the Frozen Four.

QUOTABLE

Mike Eaves on how the NHL lockout could affect the college game this season?

"Hopefully, we'll get more attention now with our games being on. They're going to have to fill some TV time, with college hockey hopefully. Certainly, we'll get a higher place in the rankings in the newspapers and maybe more on TV to get us more exposure. It will be a good thing for our game."

PREDICTION

I do believe that Wisconsin is the better team, and also the deeper club this season. Both teams should be strong in goal, so I don't expect to see a lot of goals scored this weekend.

I think the Badgers are going to rally around the early adversity they've faced this week and earn a victory on Friday. Unfortunately, I think they are going to use up a lot of energy and emotion in the first game, and will let Saturdays game slip away late.

Friday: Wisconsin 4, Northern Michigan 2

Saturday: Northern Michigan 3, Wisconsin 2

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

You can also reach Andy via twitter (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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