Badgers thankful to get back on ice against No. 1 Gophers

Jake McCabe and the Badger defense will be tested by the nation's second-best offense - Larry Radloff Photography

The conference may be new, but it's the same old rivalry between the Badgers and Gophers.

Things are finally starting to get busy for the Wisconsin men's hockey team.

The 12th-ranked Badgers (4-3-2) are heading into their inaugural Big Ten series on Thanksgiving weekend, the first of back-to-back-to-back weekends of play, which will be their longest stretch of games played so far in the 2013-'14 season.

Oh, and they are kicking it all off against No. 1 Minnesota (9-2-1) at Marriuci Arena.

"I think everybody is excited to finally play," sophomore center Nic Kerdiles said following his team's third bye week of the season. "Just having two games the following weekend will be nice for once. It'll let us get into a flow."

In order to get into that flow, Wisconsin will need to get out to a hot start. The Gophers are 6-1-1 at home this season and have trailed after the first period only twice in twelve games this season.

"We have all been to Mariucci so we all know what that environment entails," junior defenseman Jake McCabe said. "We need to have a good start, we need to take those fans out of it because once they start yelling and screaming, the Gophers feed of that. It gets super loud in there."

Also throwing a wrench into this weekend's series is a set of irregular start times. Instead of the regular 7 p.m. puck drop, the two teams will hit the ice at 4 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.

Despite the change up, Kerdiles does not believe it will have too much impact on his team's play.

"It's a little different, but our coaches and staff make sure to set up a schedule that will prepare us for playing a four o'clock game and make it feel like a seven o'clock game," he said. "Some guys might get shorter naps before the game, but we are going to be ready."

One of the keys to this weekend's series will be special teams. The Badgers' power play is light-years ahead of where they were last season, scoring on over 20 percent of their chances this year after hovering around 10 percent for much of 2012-‘13.

The Gophers on the other hand have had more troubles with the man advantage. Minnesota has scored on just nine of 59 power plays, which comes to a 15 percent success rate, good for 43rd in the country.

"We scouted their power play today and they move the puck well," McCabe said. "Both units are very similar, you just have to recognize their tendencies. Our power play, we have had glimpses of greatness this year, so we have to continue that through."

Minnesota has also lost much of its offensive firepower from a season ago, an asset that helped the Gophers stay near of top of the polls throughout the season. Gone are Zach Budish, Nick Bjugstad and Erick Haula and in come Hudson Fasching, Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata.

While those are some big names that have walked out the door, their replacements have been just as good. Four Gophers are averaging over a point per game, while the team is averaging 4.17 goals per game, the second highest in the nation.

"They have a lot of speed and skill up front, so our forecheck is crucial," McCabe said. "We can't get beat up the ice and let them have a full head of steam coming up the ice at us defensemen."

This weekend's Big Ten series will be a new page in the Gopher-Badger rivalry, but like always, the two teams will have no love lost for each other.

"There is no team I hate more than the Gophers," McCabe said. "I know a lot of the guys agree with that and I don't think they like us too much. I can't wait to get the first hit out of the way. Hopefully it is a good one."

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