With top-ranked Minnesota coming to town this weekend, the Wisconsin men's hockey team needs to get healthy to have any chance at getting above .500 in Big Ten play.
Senior forward Tyler Barnes and sophomore Nic Kerdiles each missed last weekend's series against Michigan, but head coach Mike Eaves believes at least one of his sidelined players may be ready to go Thursday night.
"Tyler Barnes is less likely to play," Eaves said at his Monday press conference. "We're hopeful that (Kerdiles) can get through these next three days and be ready to go this weekend."
The Badgers (14-8-2, 5-4-1 Big Ten) were swept by Minnesota earlier this season, but since that time, UW has gone 10-3-1 and turned things around after a 4-5-1 start.
"I think we're seasoned to a higher level now," Eaves said when asked how his team has changed since they last played the Gophers. "Looks like a good roast cooking in the oven. It takes a little time to cook. I think we're a better team than we were then."
Wisconsin may very well be a better team than they were in November, but Eaves pointed out that Minnesota has improved as well.
The Gophers (19-2-5, 8-0-2 Big Ten) have yet to lose in regulation in Big Ten play, and have not lost a non-shootout game overall since Nov. 24. Minnesota might lack experience -- its top seven scorers are juniors or younger -- but the youngsters have proven to be as dangerous as any group in the country.
"It's impressive because they are young," Eaves said. "A lot of times a little dog can bite you in the fanny as easy as old dogs. You've got to be ready for anything that comes your way, and they've done a nice job."
Eaves also pointed to junior Joel Rumpel and what he has done to become the team's No. 1 goalie. Rumpel, who has split time with fellow junior Landon Peterson for much of the last two seasons, has started all but one game in 2014, and his save percentage (.928) and goals-against average (2.02) are right around his career bests.
"[Rumpel] has gone in there, and because of his consistency of play and attention to detail, he's stepped up and been the number one guy," Eaves said. "[Rumpel] has been the number one guy because he's earned it. He's worked hard and paid attention to details and raised his level of play."