Hockey series preview: Wisconsin hosts Penn State in Big Ten clash

Larry Radloff Photography

Wisconsin is hosting Penn State this weekend in the Badgers' first-ever home Big Ten hockey series.

For just the second time this season, the Wisconsin men's hockey team will be able to play back-to-back series. In a rare scheduling oddity, the Badgers have already gone through three bye weeks, so getting back on the ice after the tough two-game sweep at the hands of top-ranked Minnesota is something to look forward to, according to head coach Mike Eaves.

"That will help us get over last weekend, that's for sure," Eaves said during his weekly press conference Monday. "That was one thing that was said right after the game is good thing about this is we play again next weekend. We can get right back on the ice and not have to live with this for another bye week.

"Being around this morning and running into some of the guys, they're anxious to get back on the ice and move forward."

While the Badgers dropped both games against the Gophers at Mariucci Arena last weekend, Wisconsin was right there in both contests and played very well despite the final results.

This weekend, the Badgers will host Penn State in the first-ever Big Ten series at the Kohl Center. Last year, the Nittany Lions came to Madison for a non-conference series and were able to steal a game from the Badgers, winning 3-2 in overtime after UW took the opener, 5-0.

They might not be the most talented team in the league, but the Nittany Lions will compete this weekend.

"They play hard," Eaves said. "Guy Gadowsky, he had a great record at Princeton. They come on a well coached team that will be in good shape and work very hard. It doesn't matter what the score will be or what the situation is, they'll play hard. That's what they're going to bring to the table, first and foremost."

Wisconsin offense

Last weekend, the Badgers were able to score first in both games, which is usually a positive. Unfortunately on Friday, that first goal was all Wisconsin could muster in a 4-1 loss. Saturday, the Badgers were able to put up three goals, but two goals off turnovers and two goals on faceoffs was the difference.

Ignorant college hockey fans have complained about Wisconsin's offensive systems for years, but it was clear to anyone who watched the Badgers last weekend they are willing to get up and down the ice with a prototypical high-flying team like Minnesota.

"It just shows that we can play at that level," Eaves said. "That level, in our mind, as a coaching staff, is the kind of championship level you're going to see at a national tournament or regional. High pace, good skill. Transition was phenomenal.

"There are so many great things about that game that encourage us that, you know, we're on the right track."

While Wisconsin's big guns up front will garner attention -- and rightfully so -- for their production last weekend, the Badgers' third line quietly had a nice weekend, as well. The group featuring Jefferson Dahl, Grant Besse and Sean Little didn't show up in the score sheet, but did set the tone on numerous shifts that led to goals.

Besse, a freshman winger from Plymouth, Minn., has been a topic of conversation for a while now as a hyped recruit expected to make a difference this season. While his three goals through nine games don't stand out, his play has been much better than skeptics will give him credit for.

In Saturday's game alone, Besse had two defining shifts that should give encouragement to Wisconsin fans. The first was at the tail end of a power play in which the freshman turned down an odd-angle shot to set up classmate Jedd Soleway on the back door for what would have been an easy tap-in goal had Soleway not whiffed on the finish.

The other was a dominant shift from that Besse-Dahl-Little line in which they controlled play for well over a minute in the offensive zone, wearing down the Minnesota players. After a quick line change, the Badgers scored off a turnover when Joe Faust was able to pick off a pass and set up a goal for Nic Kerdiles.

Wisconsin defense/goaltenders

The goalies have been a topic of conversation all season for the Badgers, especially with the ankle injury junior Joel Rumpel has been working through in the early parts of the year. Rumpel made his return to the lineup two weeks ago against Miami Saturday and played again in the finale against the Gophers last weekend.

Both Rumpel and Landon Peterson have, at times, shown flashes of brilliance this season, but neither has shown the consistency of a championship-level goaltender to this point.

"I think they've shown us they can be better, and I think they need to get there," Eaves said. "I thought on Saturday (Rumpel) was a little sloppy in some of his play with the puck, going out and stopping it."

Rumpel may not have been the sharpest in his performance Saturday, but he showed the coaching staff enough to earn the start Friday night against Penn State.

Defensively, the Badgers weren't too bad last weekend against No. 1 ranked Minnesota. The Badgers were able to keep the Gophers' top line of Sam Warning, Kyle Rau and Hudson Fasching in check most of the weekend and were even able to provide some offense of their own.

Frankie Simonelli netted the first goal of the game on Saturday, and Joe Faust stepped up to set up with a goal as well in the finale.

Penn State offense

Wisconsin wasn't the only team to lose in the final minute last weekend, as Penn State gave up a game-winning goal to Union with just three seconds left Sunday after leading 4-1 earlier in the contest.

The Nittany Lions are also well aware Wisconsin is looking for revenge after they stole a game last season at the Kohl Center.

"I'm sure they weren't happy about it. I'm sure they don't want that to happen again," Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said this week. "I'm sure that they've been looking forward to this game. That's fine by us."

Two players who were expected to be offensive threats for PSU this season, Max Gardiner and Casey Bailey, have been quiet so far. Gardiner, the Minnesota transfer and brother of former Badgers defenseman Jake, has just one assist through nine games, while Bailey has just a goal and an assist this year.

Picking up their slack has been transfer Eric Sheid, who is no stranger to the the Badgers. The cousin of former Wisconsin forward Zach Bearson, Sheid played his freshman season at Alaska Anchorage, where he notched 15 points as a rookie.

Penn State defense/goaltenders

Goaltending was the difference last season when these two schools met up in Madison. Wisconsin's Rumpel earned a shutout in a 5-0 win in the opener, but Matthew Skoff had 42 stops on 44 shots in the 3-2 overtime upset win in the finale for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions brought in heralded recruit Eamon McAdam between the pipes this season, but Skoff has had the upper hand so far, going 3-3-1 while McAdam is 0-4.

"Just looking at video this past weekend and this morning, their goaltending starts right there," Eaves said. "It's very good, very stellar. They go side to side very well."

Penn State has also been able to produce some offense from the blueline, as sophomore Luke Juha has chipped in eight points through 11 games so far this season. All four of Juha's goals have come on the power play, which ranks him first among Big Ten defensemen this year and ninth nationally.

Special teams

Special teams are going to be especially key for the Badgers this weekend, as the Nittany Lions are the fourth-most penalized team per game this season, averaging 18 minutes in the box per contest.

Wisconsin hasn't been outstanding on the man advantage, scoring on just 17.5 percent of its opportunities, so this weekend will be a good opportunity to get back on track.

By the numbers


WISCONSIN
PENN STATE
RECORD
4-5-1 (0-2-0-0 Big Ten)
3-7-1 (0-0-0-0 Big Ten)
SCORING OFFENSE
No. 19 (3.00/gm)
No. 40 (2.55/gm)
SCORING DEFENSE
No. 50 (3.50/gm)
No. 48 (3.45/gm)
POWER PLAY
No. 36 (17.5%) No. 17 (21.7%)
PENALTY KILL
No. 26 (83%)
No. 32 (81%)
PAIRWISE RANKING
19
50
RPI
19
50
KRACH
16
51
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5-feet-11.92, 190.15 pounds 6-feet-0.70, 192.67 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 9 months
21 years, 10 months

Coverage

Both games will be televised live on Fox Sports Wisconsin alternate channel and shown on tape delay on the Wisconsin Channel. Paul Braun and Rob Andringa will have the live call for both games on FS Wisconsin, while Robb Vogel and Ron Vincent will be on the call for the rebroadcast Friday (10 p.m). Vogel and Ian Perrin will be on the tape delay call for the Wisconsin Channel Saturday (10:30 p.m).

Radio coverage will be through WIBA 1310 both nights with Brian Posick on the call.

Video streaming this weekend will be through BTN2Go.com. Wisconsin Public Television will also stream the tape-delayed broadcast on its website.

Polls

Wisconsin fell to No. 17 from No. 12 in the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

Penn State is not ranked.

Injuries

None

Last meeting

Despite out-shooting Penn State, 44-36, and beating the Nittany Lions, 5-0, the night before, PSU was able to earn a 3-2 overtime win over the Badgers last season.

Fun fact

Four former Badgers have hailed from the state of Pennsylvania, most notably goaltenders Mike Richter and Shane Connelly.

Projected lines

Wisconsin

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

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

Joel Rumpel
Landon Peterson
Adam Miller

Penn State

Eric Sheid-Taylor Holstrom-Casey Bailey
Max Gardiner-David Glen-Kenny Brooks
Tommy Olczyk-Ricky DeRosa-Jacob Freidman
David Goodwin-Dylan Richard-Michael McDonagh

Luke Juha-Mark Yanis
Patrick Koudys-David Thomspon
Nate Jensen-Connor Varley

Matthew Skoff
Eamon McAdam

Quotable

"Everybody that's here, 95 percent of the players and the staff that are here, are here largely due to the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Conference," Gadowsky said. "It's something that's very important to college hockey. It's truly an honor to play in this league and compete against the programs that we have."

Badgers in the media

"On Wisconsin" with Brian Posick: Tuesday's with Shuey (interview starts at 28:00)

"On Wisconsin" with Brian Posick: Mark Zengerle interview (starts at 29:07)

Wisconsin Hockey Hour: Brian Posick with Mike Eaves & Mark Johnson

Bucky's 5th Quarter: Kerdiles named to U.S. WJC training camp roster

B5Q: Badgers ready to move past tough weekend (Matt Masterson)

B5Q: 5 things I think I think, Minnesota series wrap  up (Andy Johnson)

B5Q: Badgers hosting blue-chip recruit this weekend

UWBadgers.com: This week in Badger hockey

UWBadgers.com: 8 additional Badger hockey games to be televised

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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