Two wins to open the season was just what the doctor ordered for a Wisconsin team that got off to the worst start imaginable last year. With the prospects of heading on the road to face Boston College and Boston University this weekend, as well as No. 1 ranked Miami in a few weeks, a solid start against NMU was paramount.
So far, so good.
The Badgers jumped out to a quick lead against the Wildcats on Friday en route to a 5-2 win, and were able to overcome a third period tying goal from NMU Saturday to pull off the 2-1 win and capture the series sweep.
"We're going to push forward," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "I mean, you come to the rink. You've got a couple of wins under your belt. You've got a little jump in your step. Now is the time that you can put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, as far as the coach, and show them that you hold them accountable and want more from them this week because they do have that extra jump in their step."
It was two completely different games offensively for the Badgers in the opener against Northern Michigan. Friday night things just clicked, and they were able to pile in five goals. NMU buckled down in the finale, but Wisconsin was able to get a late goal from freshman Grant Besse to earn the series sweep.
Besse recorded a goal in each game over the weekend, living up to his reputation as an elite goal scoring threat. Besse isn't going to be a player you notice all night, but he's got a knack of being able to put the puck in the net when he gets an opportunity.
"He's been able to play to his strengths, and that's put the puck in the net," Eaves said. "He's got a unique gift of being able to have the puck on his stick and put it where he wants. And the other unique gift that he has, the puck finds him. Those are qualities you don't teach."
Wisconsin's top forward last weekend was Nic Kerdiles, who was a force for all six periods against Northern Michigan. The sophomore from Irvine, Calif., finished the weekend with a goal and two assists and was +5, but looked even better than the player who finished last season on a 12-game point streak, which is a scary thought for opposing teams.
I wouldn't expect too many line changes, if at all heading into the Boston weekend. The top three lines for Wisconsin all showed effectiveness and I'm guessing the coaching staff will look to build upon that early chemistry this weekend.
WISCONSIN DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
The Badgers' defense did their part last weekend limiting opportunities. They held Northern Michigan to just 20 shots in the opener and 21 in the finale on Saturday. When the goaltenders were tested, they came up big for the most part. Landon Peterson allowed just two goals -- both on the power play -- while Rumpel allowed just one, which came on a shot that was deflected.
Peterson is the projected starter in goal for the Badgers for Friday night, while it's expected we'll see Rumpel once again on Saturday.
"Goalies are an interesting question," Eaves said. "I think even more so than or similar to a quarterback situation. It's a gut call."
Wisconsin has to be happy seeing junior alternate captain Jake McCabe stepping up offensively and chipping in. Oddly enough, McCabe's goal Friday night came short-handed when he followed up a line rush started by Kerdiles, and eventually finishing up a rebound from a Mark Zengerle shot.
To be fair, NMU isn't an offensive juggernaut and was missing its top forward in Reed Seckel. This weekend will be the real test for UW's back end.
The big loss for the Eagles from last season's roster was the graduation of senior goaltender Parker Milner. The Pittsburgh native was a ridiculous 64-20-5 over his four year career at Boston College with a .919 save percentage.
Tasked to replace Milner -- at least against Wisconsin on Friday -- will be junior Brian Billett, who has played just 11 games in his collegiate career. Billett started BC's season opener last Thursday against Michigan, stopping 29 shots in a 3-1 loss to the Wolverines.
There's no question the player to watch on the BC side this weekend is junior forward "Johnny Hockey" Gaudreau. The New Jersey native has racked up 21 goals in each of his first two seasons in Chestnut Hill. Looking to build upon his 51 point season as a sophomore, Gaudreau is the early favorite for the 2014 Hobey Baker.
Senior forwards Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold are also lethal offensive threats, and sophomore defenseman Michael Matheson looks like an All-American caliber blueliner in just his second season.
Keep an eye on freshman defenseman Ian McCoshen, who hails from Hudson, Wis., and picked Boston College over the Badgers in the recruiting process.
BU's biggest loss in the off-season was junior forward Matt Nieto, who left school to sign with the San Jose Sharks. Nieto recorded his second NHL goal Thursday night, and now has five points in his first six NHL games. The Terriers also lost senior forward Wade Megan who notched 16 goals in his final season for BU.
Boston University's scoring was spread out in their opening series sweep over UMass and Holy Cross with six guys each registering a goal. Sophomore Danny O'Regan -- a linemate of Nic Kerdiles' at the U.S. NTDP -- is the Terrier's leading returning scorer from last season. Also watch out for juniors Cason Hohmann and Evan Rodrigues who both carry scoring punch.
On the back end, sophomore Matt Grzelcyk is a talented kid who can provide offense from the blueline with 20 assists last season, and senior Garrett Noonan is the consummate veteran defenseman that can do it all for the Terriers.
BY THE NUMBERS...
||5-feet-11.92, 190.15 pounds||5-feet-11.85, 185.78 pounds
||6-feet-0.60, 193.08 pounds
||21 years, 7 months
||20 years, 2 months
||20 years, 10 months|
There is no TV this weekend.
Friday's game will be streamed through insidebadgersports.com if you have a subscription.
Friday's game can be heard live on WIBA 1310, while Saturday's contest will be broadcast live on WTSO 1070. As always, games can be found online on Badgersportsnetwork.com.
Wisconsin is ranked no. 2 in the USCHO.com & USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Boston College is ranked No. 7 in the USCHO.com poll, and No. 6 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Boston University is ranked No. 15 in the USCHO.com poll and receiving votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
Boston College: Wisconsin lost to the Eagles, 5-0, in the 2010 National Championship game at Ford Field in Detroit.
Boston University: Wisconsin lost, 4-3, at the Icebreaker tournament in 2010 despite replay showing a goal scored by John Ramage that would have tied the game.
Both of Mike Eaves' sons, Ben and Patrick, played for coach Jerry York at Boston College. York will be honored during Friday's contest vs. the Badgers.
"We're going into the den of a couple of big time teams. I know everybody is excited. It's good to go on a trip like this early in the year because it really brings the team together. You're truly on your own.
"We'll go in there, and we talk about trying to steal some ponies on the road. There's an old legend about the Dakota Indians that just for fun would go into different rivals' camps and steal ponies in the middle of the night and sneak out with them. That's kind of what we try to do here." -- Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves
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, Boston College 3
Saturday: Wisconsin 4, Boston University 1