Hockey series preview: Wisconsin looks to extend winning streak vs. Alabama-Huntsville

Brad Navin had a big weekend last time out for Wisconsin with a three-point game vs. Colorado College. - Larry Radloff Photography

After the holiday break, Wisconsin jumps back in the saddle with a series vs. Huntsville that will be televised on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

Listening to Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves on a week-to-week basis, you're bound to pick up on some of his quirky phrases and sayings. Last year the "turning of the ship" metaphor was used ad nauseam. Another one Eaves has reiterated over the years has been "putting hay in the barn" when the opportunity presents itself.

Currently in the middle of a 12-game home stand in which they've started 4-0, Wisconsin must take advantage of a very soft portion of the schedule. This week is another opportunity for the Badgers (8-5-1, 2-2-0-0 Big Ten) to "put some hay in the barn" with Alabama-Huntsville (1-17-0, 1-11 WCHA) coming to town.

The Chargers are one of the worst teams in college hockey with just one victory, and are averaging only a goal per game offensively. Even though on paper this series appears to be a cakewalk, Eaves reiterated this week Wisconsin can't take this series lightly.

"We've talked about the word ‘parity' for the last five or six years, and every year it seems to be getting to a higher and higher level," Eaves said. "Again, we said it at the beginning of this year, if we don't have our ‘A' game, and strap on our helmets really tight to play hard, we could get beat.

"I think that's the great thing about college hockey now -- any game you go to you're going to have an entertaining evening."

Wisconsin offense

After an eight goal weekend vs. Colorado College two weeks ago, the Badgers have moved back into the top 10 in the country in scoring offense, averaging 3.5 goals per game. One of the catalysts for Wisconsin in the series finale was junior winger Brad Navin, who recorded the first three point game of his UW career with a goal and two assists.

"A big game for Brad in terms of self-confidence," Eaves said. "He's been practicing very well. He can really skate for a big man. He's got a heavy, heavy shot. It was nice to see him have some success.

"It will be interesting to see when he comes back, with the production that he's had what kind of confidence that gives him as we move forward."

One player the Badgers will be without this weekend is sophomore center Nic Kerdiles, who is over in Sweden with Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Jumping up in his place between Grant Besse and Michael Mersch will be senior center Jefferson Dahl.

Also expected to receive a bump in playing time while Kerdiles is in Sweden is Keegan Meuer, who has been playing the best hockey of his career so far as a senior. With the promotions of Dahl and Meuer, look for redshirt freshman Morgan Zulinick to slide into the middle on the fourth line according to the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

Once again Joel Rumpel received both starts for the Badgers between the pipes against Colorado College, marking his fourth and fifth consecutive starts in goal. While Rumpel ran his season record to 6-1 with a pair of victories over CC, he's still not playing at the same level he was at the end of last season when he helped propel Wisconsin to the Broadmoor trophy.

That said, Rumpel has still been very good, allowing just 15 goals in seven games this season. To put that in perspective, the Badgers allowed 16 goals in one weekend vs. Boston College and Boston University earlier this season when he was sidelined with an ankle injury.

It's expected Rumpel and classmate Landon Peterson will both see action this weekend vs. Alabama-Huntsville.

Alabama-Huntsville offense

It's hard to pump the tires of a team who has managed to score just 19 goals in 17 games and is statistically far and away the poorest offensive club in the country.

Freshman Matt Salhany leads the team in points with two goals and five assists in 16 games, while Alex Allen, Chad Brears and Jeff Vanderlugt share the team lead in goals scored with three each.

Alabama-Huntsville defense and goaltenders

Carmine Guerriero and Matt Larose have split the action between the pipes for the Chargers this season with little success between them. Guerriero has the lone win and the better overall numbers with a .904 save percentage and 3.48 goals-against average in 10 games.

The top defensive pairing for Huntsville features a pair of young blueliners in sophomore Frank Misuraca and freshman Brandon Carlson. Misuraca is second on the club in points this season with a goal and five assists, while Carlson is stout defensively with his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame.

Special teams

This weekend appears to be a fantastic opportunity for the Badgers to gain some confidence on both the power play and the penalty kill. Huntsville is the worst penalty killing team in the country, allowing opponents to score on 37 percent of their power plays. The Chargers also have the second worst power play in the country.

By the numbers


WISCONSIN
ALABAMA-HUNTSVILLE
RECORD
8-5-1 (2-2-0-0 Big Ten)
1-17 (1-11 WCHA)
SCORING OFFENSE
3.50/gm (10th)
1.06/gm (59th)
SCORING DEFENSE
3.07/gm (42nd)
4.28/gm (57th)
POWER PLAY
18.9% (33rd) 7.3% (58th)
PENALTY KILL
83.9% (20th)
62.9% (59th)
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 11
No. 56
RPI
No. 11
No. 56
KRACH
No. 14
No. 56
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5'11.92, 190.15 pounds 6'0.48, 191.72 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 9 months
22 years, 4 months

Coverage

Both games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Wisconsin plus.

As always, Brian Posick will have the radio call on WIBA 1310 and also on the Badger Sports Network.

REMINDER: Saturday's game is a late start (8:00 CT) due to basketball.

Polls

Wisconsin is ranked No. 14 in the USCHO.com poll, and No. 15 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Alabama-Huntsville is not ranked.

Injuries

None.

Last meeting

Wisconsin swept Huntsville last December, 5-0, 4-1.

Fun fact

Huntsville senior forward Brice Geoffrion is the brother of former Wisconsin Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Blake Geoffrion.

Projected lineup

Joseph LaBate-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Grant Besse-Jefferson Dahl-Michael Mersch
Brad Navin-Keegan Meuer-Jedd Soleway
Matt Paape-Morgan Zulinick-Sean Little

Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli
Kevin Schulze-Joe Faust
Eddie Wittchow-Chase Drake

Joel Rumpel-Landon Peterson
Adam Miller

Quotable

"Nic will miss four games for us, but when he steps back into our fold, he will bring that experience with us and make us a better team. He'll infuse our team with his experience. History has told us when those guys come back from (the World Junior Championships) they are just fine. Jake McCabe played really well when he came back last year. So, Nic will bring all that experience and all that enthusiasm and energy into our locker room and make us a better team when he returns." -- Mike Eaves on Nic Kerdiles playing for Team USA at the World Juniors.

Badger Hockey Digest

For more hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter --
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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