Badgers face off against Northern Michigan in season opener

Junior defenseman Jake McCabe and a veteran Badger team look to meet lofty expectations this season - Larry Radloff photography

After a dismal start last fall, the Badgers look to pick up where they left off at the end of the season.

For all the newness that surrounds the 2013 Wisconsin men's hockey team, some things remain exactly the same. Take for instance the Badgers opening series opponent, the Wildcats of Northern Michigan.

This will be the third-straight season the two teams have faced off against each other on the opening weekend, but the Badgers have struggled to find success against their now former conference foe.

"The reason we do it is because [NMU coach Walt Kyle's] teams are good teams," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They are well-coached, the are big, it is a legitimate way to start the season. We want to play a good team coming out of the gate, and that is a good team."

Last year the Badgers squandered third period leads in both games against the Wildcats, scoring just three goals in the series that was reflective of their early season offensive struggles last fall. This year Wisconsin is looking to pick up with they left off late last season and carry a strong offense throughout the season.

"I think we have all the pieces we need," sophomore center Nic Kerdiles said. "Last year we lacked a couple things just because we had a lot of things going on in the beginning. We are comfortable with what we have and we are going to play like we can play."

One of those missing things was of course Kerdiles himself, who was benched for the first ten games last year due to an NCAA suspension. Upon his return, the Irvine, Calif., native immediately became one of the Badgers' most dynamic offensive threats.

This season, Kerdiles has been moved from the wing position (where he spent his time last season) into the center position between 20+ goal scorer Michael Mersch and junior Joseph LaBate

"It has been familiar," Kerdiles said. "I played that position the year before I came out here. I know it, but I am not completely used to it yet. I think it is going to take a couple more practices and I will feel really comfortable."

The move seemingly gives the Badgers two number one lines, along with the trio of Tyler Barnes, Mark Zengerle and Morgan Zulinick. That's five returning forwards, all of whom are capable of 15+ goals and 30+ points, as well as one redshirt freshman (Zulinick) who has the potential to be one of the team's most electric playmakers.

That's called depth, and it is one of the main reason's why expectations surrounding Wisconsin are so high this fall.

"We know we have a good group in the locker room," Kerdiles said. "We know that if we go out there and play our game we are going to be successful."
With great expectations can also come great egos, but the Badgers players understand that nothing is going to be given to them because of their top-three ranking.

"I think it is more of just taking it weekend by weekend and not look at too much of the big picture," junior defenseman Jake McCabe said when asked how he expects his team to remain level-headed. "We do not need those rankings and whatnot to understand what we have in that locker room and understand the potential we have with the group of guys that we have."

As for the goaltender situation, Eaves said he plans on using both Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson early in the year, just as he has done in the past two seasons, before possibly picking a No. 1 guy.

The puck drops on the Badgers' season at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Kohl Center.

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