A new season brings great expectations in Madison for the Wisconsin men's hockey team. After starting last year 1-7-2, the Badgers rebounded nicely, and went on a run through the WCHA playoffs to win the Broadmoor trophy as Final Five tournament champions.
While Wisconsin lost its first round match up in the NCAA tournament to UMass-Lowell, the Badgers return with big goals in 2013-14. Returning nine seniors and 16 upperclassmen, UW appears to be the team to beat in the Big Ten at the outset of the season.
Wisconsin opens its season by hosting Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center for a two game series starting tonight. Last season these two teams met up at the Resch Center in Green Bay to open the year, with the Wildcats pulling out two close victories over the Badgers.
With the inaugural Big Ten title and a national championship the ultimate goal, Wisconsin must start out on the right foot this weekend against NMU.
"What we try to talk to our team about is that there are two things that give us a chance of being a champion," Wisconsin head coach Eaves said during his weekly press conference. "We have some of those built in because of our experience, talent and depth, but we still have to be razor sharp, be on our toes and meet the challenges that come forward."
Last season, Wisconsin's forward group was in disarray from day one. It started with Nic Kerdiles' 10-game NCAA suspension and was furthered by injuries to key players Derek Lee and Mark Zengerle. Mid-way through the season, things started to click offensively for the Badgers, and they are hoping that magic comes earlier in the year this season.
After missing most of last season due to a thigh injury, redshirt freshman Morgan Zulinick makes his return to the Wisconsin lineup. The coaching staff is thrusting the Kamloops, B.C., native right into the action, playing Zulinick on the left wing with Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes.
Kerdiles played on the wing most of last season, but will make the move to center on the Badgers' second group to start the year. He'll be centering Joseph LaBate and Wisconsin's top goal scorer from a season ago, Michael Mersch.
Looking for scoring depth from the third line, the Badgers pair up two talented freshmen with senior center Jefferson Dahl. Grant Besse from Benilde-St. Margaret's high school in Minnesota will play the left side on this line, while Jedd Soleway out of the British Columbia Hockey League will flank them on the right.
Wisconsin's energy line on opening night will see the fireball Keegan Meuer between Sean Little and Brad Navin.
WISCONSIN DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
The somewhat surprising news yesterday was Mike Eaves announcing Landon Peterson will start the opener tonight. Joel Rumpel was the go-to guy down the stretch last season for the Badgers, but Eaves likes what Peterson has done in the preseason. You can probably expect to see both goaltenders at some point this weekend.
Wisconsin's top pair defensively should look familiar to fans with senior captain Frankie Simonelli and Jake McCabe together again. That group will play a lot of minutes against opposing teams' top lines this season, so don't expect anything different this weekend.
The smooth skating Kevin Schulze will be paired up with the rock solid Joe Faust, while sophomore Eddie Wittchow is tabbed to skate next to redshirt junior Chase Drake on opening night.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN FORWARDS
Graduated from Northern Michigan's roster is Beaver Dam, Wis., native Matt Thurber. The former Wisconsin transfer was a thorn in the side for the Badgers when playing his old club with a goal and four assists in four meetings over the past two seasons.
Two guys pegged to score goals for the Wildcats this season are former Green Bay Gamblers' forward Reed Seckel and junior Ryan Daugherty. In an exhibition on Sunday, Daugherty chipped in two goals and appears to have taken a step forward in his development from last season.
Northern Michigan is also looking for a bounce-back season from a guy like Stephan Vigier who scored 13 goals as a sophomore, but saw his point total drop as a junior. The Wildcats are also hoping sophomores Darren Nowick and Cohen Adair take positive steps in their second seasons for NMU.
Two freshmen to keep an eye out for this weekend are forwards Shane Sooth from the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL and Dominik Shine, who spent last season with the Lincoln Stars.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
The biggest losses for Northern Michigan from last season come from the defense and between the pipes. Goaltender Jared Coreau seemed to frustrate the Badgers in their two meetings last season, but he signed a contract with the Detroit Red Wings in the off-season and is currently playing in the AHL in Grand Rapids.
Tabbed to replace Coreau is redshirt freshman Mathias Dahlstrom, a Swedish native who sat out last season after being a partial NCAA qualifier. Talking with Northern Michigan beat writer Matt Wellens earlier in the week, it sounds like the Wildcats are excited with the way Dahlstrom played last weekend in exhibition action.
NMU also lost two talented defensemen in Kyle Follmer and Scott Macaulay, but bring in two transfers that are expected to make an immediate impact. Barrett Kaib, a former player from the U.S. NTDP comes into the program after starting his career at Providence, and they also add Luke Eibler, a 6-foot-2 blueliner who spent two seasons at Northeastern.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS Northern Michigan
- Get off to a fast start. On paper, Wisconsin is the deeper, more talented club. Wisconsin needs to get on NMU early and often, not allowing them to hang around to steal a victory.
- Throw the body early. Nothing gets the Kohl Center crowd into the game more than a couple thunderous checks early in the game. Get the crowd on your side early.
- Finish opportunities. Too many games early last season were blown because Wisconsin couldn't convert on prime scoring chances. They must buckle down and bury opportunities.
BY THE NUMBERS
||5-feet-11.92, 190.15 pounds||5-feet-11.75, 187.59 pounds
||21 years, 7 months
||22 years, 4 months
There is no TV this weekend. Both games can be streamed online at UWBadgers.com.
As always, the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.
Wisconsin is ranked no. 3 in the USCHO.com & USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Northern Michigan is not ranked.
Wisconsin was swept by NMU in Green Bay last year.
Northern Michigan was a member of the WCHA from 1984–97, and will rejoin the conference this season.
"There were games, if you go back and look, we did everything with the puck, but the power play percentage is based on the puck in the net. So there were times that you could say we did all the right things but put the puck in the net. So that's one of the reasons." -- Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves on the power play last season
Morgan Zulinick-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Joseph LaBate-Nic Kerdiles-Michael Mersch
Grant Besse-Jefferson Dahl-Jedd Soleway
Brad Nevin-Keegan Meuer-Sean Little
Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli
Kevin Schulze-Joe Faust
Eddie Wittchow-Chase Drake
Friday: Wisconsin 3, Northern Michigan 2
Saturday: Wisconsin 6, Northern Michigan 2
BADGER HOCKEY DIGEST