Wisconsin hockey series preview: Badgers host Ohio State

Ohio State forward Ryan Dzingel is as dangerous as they come in the Big Ten. - Rick Osentoski - USA Today Sports

Wisconsin hosts Ohio State in a two-game Big Ten conference series at the Kohl Center. Saturday will be a "white out" with a pom-pom giveaway.

Stop me if you've heard this before: The Wisconsin men's hockey team is coming off a bye week. The quirkiness of the Badgers' schedule once again reared its head, as any momentum gained from the sweep of Michigan two weeks ago has likely subsided.

"Well, if we had have played last week and we were still on a roll, I'd say we feel pretty good," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "But we've had another bye week. So we have to kind of get that engine rolling again here."

This weekend, Ohio State (11-8-1, 1-4-1-0 Big Ten) rolls into Madison for a two-game Big Ten conference series. Eaves noted a good start Friday night will dictate the rest of the weekend.

"I think the first period after any bye week is always important in terms of how we get that engine running, make sure that we're simple and get through the first 20 minutes," Eaves said.

"But there's an extra little step in everybody's gait right now because of the fact they recognize we're in the Big Ten -- we're getting into the meat of our season in terms of being in league play, and I think that's really elevated everybody's attention and focus as we practice."

In an attempt to draw more fans into the building this weekend, the athletic department has put tickets on special and has a "white out" planned for Saturday. Fans coming to the Kohl Center for the series finale Saturday are encouraged to wear white and will receive a white pompom.

Wisconsin offense

The Badgers will once again be without the services of sophomore center Nic Kerdiles, who will miss his second consecutive weekend with a separated shoulder suffered in the Alaska-Anchorage series. In his place, Joseph LaBate is back in the middle on a line with freshman wingers Grant Besse and Jedd Soleway.

Two players who stepped up in Kerdiles' absence during the Michigan series were seniors Jefferson Dahl and Michael Mersch. Both notched four points apiece on Friday, with Mersch registering a hat trick.

"There's a little chemistry between (Dahl and Mersch)," Eaves said. "We've seen it off and on over the last couple of years, but they've gone to a new level now. You'll have to pry those two apart -- they want to be on the ice together.

"I think (the Michigan series) was their coming out party. If they can do that, or close to that every weekend, it's really going to help this team accomplish the goals that we've set."

Dahl and Mersch will be joined by junior winger Brad Navin on that line, while Mark Zengerle will center Tyler Barnes and redshirt freshman Morgan Zulinick.

One positive note on the injury front is the return of senior Sean Little, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury. An energy guy who excels on the penalty kill, Little was inserted on a line with Matt Paape and Keegan Meuer.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

After going the first 59 games of his Wisconsin career without registering a multi-point game, sophomore defenseman Kevin Schulze produced consecutive two-point games vs. Michigan two weeks ago. The White Bear Lake, Minn., native has taken his game to another level as a sophomore, according to Eaves.

"[Schulze] played very well [vs. Michigan]," Eaves said. "One of Kevin's strengths is that he can really skate. He was moving his feet consistently the whole weekend. He's only a sophomore, and he's becoming more comfortable in understanding what his role is, and creating his identity.

"With the puck, he's starting to take what is given, he's reading the ice very well and distributing the puck."

Between the pipes, you can expect to see Joel Rumpel once again this weekend. The junior is 10-1 this season with a career-high .932 save percentage. Rumpel played very well in the sweep over Michigan, stopping 55 of 58 shots on the weekend.

Ohio State offense

The Buckeyes have a Wisconsin flavor to their roster, as two forwards -- Max McCormick (De Pere) and Tyler Lundey (Middleton) -- hail from the Badger State.

McCormick is a major offensive threat for OSU, producing at a point-per-game rate of seven goals and 20 points in 20 games. A former star at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, McCormick is expected to play the wing on a line centered by Lundey, who grew up in the Madison Capitols' AAA program.

Another major threat offensively to keep an eye on this weekend is junior Ryan Dzingel. The high-profile left winger leads the club in goals (13), assists (15) and points (28).

"Terrific shot, good speed. He's kind of got that strut that goal scorers have," Eaves said this week of Dzingel. "We're going to have to know when he's on the ice and make sure we have the appropriate people there too."

Ohio State defense and goaltenders

OSU will be without two major contributors on the back end this weekend, as sophomore blueliner Craig Dalrymple and senior Curtis Gedig did not make the trip to Madison due to undisclosed injuries.

Freshman Drew Brevig has been the biggest offensive threat from the back-end with two goals and nine points. Classmate Josh Healey was also a highly thought-of recruit coming out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Between the pipes, Ohio State has had quite a season of headaches. The season started with Collin Olson and Matt Tompkins as the two go-to players in the cage. Early in the year, Olson decided to transfer, and shortly thereafter Topkins suffered an injury, leaving the Buckeyes shorthanded in goal.

Head coach Steve Rohlik was forced to add Aaron Kahn to the roster from Ohio State's club team, just so they had two healthy goalies on the roster.

Things have leveled out a bit for OSU, as Tomkins has returned from injury and the Buckeyes also brought in a new recruit at the semester break.

The addition was Christian Frey from the Dubuque Fighting Saints, who had been playing with Wisconsin recruits Keegan Ford and Seamus Malone in the USHL. Frey has seen action in three games so far in the second half, including a 28-save loss vs. Minnesota last weekend.

Special teams

The Badgers have been pretty poor on the man advantage with Kerdiles out of the lineup and are making another change to the personnel this weekend. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Schulze has been bumped up to the top unit, which makes a lot of sense considering his ability to chase down loose pucks.

While Ohio State's penalty kill is middle of the pack (No. 36), its power play is one of the most lethal in the country this year. On the season, the Buckeyes rank ninth, converting on 22.2 percent of their chances.

The Badgers are going to have to work for their power play opportunities, as well. Ohio State ranks 42nd in the nation in penalties taken per-game this season, averaging just over 10 minutes per game in the box.

By the numbers


WISCONSIN
OHIO STATE
RECORD
13-6-1 (4-2-0-0 Big Ten)
11-8-1 (1-4-1-0 Big Ten)
SCORING OFFENSE
3.55/gm (4th)
3.55/gm (4th)
SCORING DEFENSE
2.70/gm (30th)
2.80/gm (35th)
POWER PLAY
15.4% (46th) 22.2% (9th)
PENALTY KILL
83.1% (20th)
80.5% (36th)
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 10
No. 28
RPI
No. 10
No. 28
KRACH
No. 11
No. 27
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5'11.92, 190.15 pounds 6'0.21, 188.96 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 10 months
21 years, 9 months

Coverage

Friday (8 p.m. start): Big Ten Network (Matt Shepherd, Ben Clymer, Jay Wilson)
Saturday: Fox Sports Wisconsin+ (Paul Braun, Barry Richter). Saturday's game will also be on tape delay on the Wisconsin channel (Robb Vogel, Ron Vincent).

WIBA 1310 is your radio home for both games with Brian Posick doing play-by-play. Barry Richter will do color Friday, while Mike Cerniglia will be in the booth Saturday. You can stream the radio broadcast online at the Badger Radio Network.

Video stream for both games this weekend on BTN2Go.com.

Polls

Wisconsin is ranked No. 9 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

Ohio State is receiving votes in the USCHO.com poll. The Buckeyes are not ranked in the USA Today/USA Hockey magazine poll.

Injuries

Center Nic Kerdiles will miss his second consecutive weekend with a separated shoulder for Wisconsin.

Defensemen Craig Dalrymple and Curtis Gedig (both undisclosed injuries) did not make the trip to Madison for Ohio State.

Last meeting

Ohio Sate defeated Wisconsin, 5-3 at the Lefty McFadden Invitational championship game on Oct. 13, 2007.

Fun fact

Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik played at Wisconsin from 1986-90 and captained the Badgers' 1990 NCAA championship team. Rohlik is in his first season as head coach of Ohio State, replacing the fired Mark Osiecki, who was also on that Wisconsin 1990 NCAA championship team.

Projected lineup

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

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

Joel Rumpel
Landon Peterson
Adam Miller

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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