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Nebraska-Omaha Preview

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You may not know my name
But by the time I leave, you will remember the B to the O to the B
And every single dot that's in between
And every time I hop up in the scene
I'm feelin' like I'm better than before
I'm ready for whatever if you feel me let me know

B.O.B-Higher

If you think about it, it's interesting the little respect that this years Wisconsin hockey team has gotten. The Badgers were predicted to finish 7th in the WCHA by the media, and 8th by the leagues coaches in the 12 team WCHA.

Only twice during Mike Eaves coaching career at Wisconsin has his club finished outside of home ice for the WCHA playoffs. His rookie season, and last year, when he lost 10 of his top 13 point producers off a team that made it to the National Championship game.

Despite Wisconsin's 3-3 record, (with all three losses in overtime), which includes a sweep of formerly fifth ranked North Dakota, the Badgers aren't ranked in either major poll. Save me the line about national polls being irrelevant, I understand that. The polls do however represent the respect people around the country are showing your program. At this point, it looks like Wisconsin has some more work to do to.

This years Wisconsin team has flown under the radar, especially because of their youth. Media members around the country don't know the names of guys like Joseph LaBate, Joel Rumpel, or Landon Peterson. But like the song above says, soon enough, people will. The young players on this Badger roster have shown improvements every week, and are looking for their next challenge.

This week that challenge is the University of Nebaska-Omaha, who have seen some struggles of their own early in the 2011-2012 campaign. The Mavericks, who were picked to finish fourth by both the media and the coaches in the pre-season poll, started the season 1-3. However, UNO bounced back last weekend and swept Alaska-Anchorage, holding the Seawolves to only two goals over the weekend.

BADGER OFFENSE

In last weeks preview, we talked about the slow starts Wisconsin has been having, not scoring a goal in the first period all season. That changed last weekend, as the Badgers scored twice in the opening stanza both nights. Did Wisconsin sweep because they put two in the net in the first period on both nights? Hard to say, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Another big key for last weekends success was the Badgers supremacy in the face off circle. Led by top line center Mark Zengerle's 33-17 record on the dot, the Badgers held a 67-52 advantage in the circle when one of their top four centers was taking the draw.

Last week Eaves changed things up, bumping up freshman left winger Joseph LaBate to a line with Zengerle and Tyler Barnes. That unit seemed to be very productive over the weekend, and looks to stay together at least one more week.

It looks like the Badgers will keep together the second unit of Michael Mersch, Derek Lee, and Matt Paape as well. Mersch banged home his second goal of the season last weekend, and Lee and Paape both had two point weekends. Wisconsin getting scoring behind their top line is going to be one of the biggest keys this season, so if this trio can continue to put points on the board, the Badgers are going to turn some heads.

Wisconsin's other two lines could go in a number of directions this weekend. That's partly due to an injury that Ryan Little suffered last weekend when blocking a shot, took one off the hand. Little admitted to the Wisconsin State Journal this week that "he's got some broken stuff in there," but has been assured that he can't hurt it worse, and plans to play through it.

BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES

While we're on the topic of injuries, we might as well start with Jake McCabe. The freshman blue-liner from Eau Clarie missed the majority of last weekends action after he was injured on a fluke play. While on the bench, an arrant skate blade ended up cutting him on the hand and sliced a tendon. McCabe had surgery last weekend, and will be out for six weeks.

McCabe had been playing on the top pairing with Justin Schultz, as well as the top penalty kill. His minutes are expected to be replaced by senior Eric Springer, who played well in McCabes absence last weekend. Springer is left handed, which compliments the right handed Schultz well.

In Andy Baggot's interview with sophomore defenseman Joe Faust this morning, he notes that Faust got extensive work in practice this week with the number one power play unit in McCabes place. Faust has two goals this season and was known as an offensive threat in high school at Bloomington Jefferson.

Look for freshman Patrick Daly to get increased minutes as well this weekend. Daly had been in and out of the lineup through the first six games of the season, but is a lock to play both nights this weekend. Arguably the best skater on the roster, Daly could possibly see some power play time as well this weekend.

For the fourth weekend in a row, you can expect a rotation in net for the Badger goalies. Eaves hasn't announced his goalies, but it would be shocking to see him change the formula at this point. Both Peterson and Rumpel have played solid in net and Eaves is looking for that consistency to continue for his young net-minders.

MAVERICK OFFENSE

UNO got a huge boost last weekend when Alex Hudson returned to the lineup. Hudson, who was named team Captain before the season, was suspended shortly before the season started, and sat out the first four games the Mavericks played. Despite not registering a point in his debut against Anchorage, Hudson is a leader and a presence for UNO.

The Maverick's top forward, and one of the best in the league is junior Terry Broadhurst. After recording 30 points in 30 games last year, the Orland Park, Illinois native is off to a productive start, once again averaging a point per game. Broadhurst plays the left wing on a line with Hudson, and sophomore Matt White, who currently leads the Mavericks in scoring.

UNO has three Wisconsin natives on their roster, including two up front. Brent Gwidt, who played for Lakeland high school is a rugged winger who likes to throw his body around. The other one should be familiar to Badger fans. I'm obviously talking about Brock Montpetit, the Somerset native, and one time Badger recruit. Montpetit has been centering the Mavericks second line all season and is averaging a point per game. Montpetit missed last Saturday night's game with an injury, but is expected back this weekend, and you know he'll  be juiced up to play the Badgers.

MAVERICK DEFENSE & GOALIES

UNO lost an outstanding defenseman from last season in senior Eric Olimb. I talked with UNO beat writer Matthew Semisch from USCHO.com (which you will see posted early this afternoon) and he called Olimb the best defenseman that UNO has produced since Greg Zanon from the Minnesota Wild. So, obviously the current crop of blue-liners has big shoes to fill.

One of the guys expected to step into Olimb's role from last season is Bryce Aneloski. The junior defenseman projects to be the most offensive defenseman by far for the Mavericks and has four points already this season after putting up 19 as a sophomore. Also look for the 6'9 Andrej "The Giant" Sustr to have an impact this weekend defensively for UNO.

In net, the Mavericks return All-WCHA goaltender John Faulkner between the pipes. Personally, I didn't think Faulkner deserved league honors, and a lot of that opinion had to do with his consistency, or lack there of. Faulkner had six shutouts last season, but allowed four or more goals eight times. Faulkner was especially not sharp down the stretch, when he allowed 7 goals on only 30 shots against Bemidji in the league playoffs.

But Faulkner is back, and he's experienced, which shouldn't be discounted. He's played decent this season, but hasn't faced very much pressure. In fact, the Ontario native has only seen 20 shots once this season. I expect to see Faulkner between the pipes this weekend, but it wouldn't shock me if UNO head coach Dean Blais played rookie Ryan Massa one night, especially if Faulkner struggles.

COVERAGE

The Friday night game will be televised live on FSN Wisconsin, and replayed on the Wisconsin Channel. The Saturday game will be televised live locally on TVW, and replayed on the Wisconsin Channel.

You can find the game on the radio at WIBA-1310 Friday, and WTSO-1070 Saturday.

There is a webcast on UWBadgers.com ($) Saturday.

POLLS

Neither Wisconsin nor Nebraska-Omaha are ranked in either poll, but each team is "receiving votes" in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

INJURIES

Wisconsin's Jake McCabe is out 5-8 weeks with a hand laceration. Ryan Little is planning on playing through a hand injury that he suffered blocking a shot.

PREDICTIONS

I think Nebraska-Omaha has a really nice club and they are going to make the Badgers work for points this weekend. In fact, most would consider UNO the favorites this weekend, despite the games being played at the Kohl Center. I see the Badgers parlaying their success from last weekend into a win on Friday. Saturday UNO comes out even harder but it ends in a draw.

Friday: Wisconsin 4, Nebraska-Omaha 3

Saturday: Wisconsin 3, Nebraska-Omaha 3

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