Hush little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beast under your bed,
In your closet, in your head
After a weekend off to re-energize, the Wisconsin men's hockey team is back at the Kohl Center this weekend for another WCHA series. This weekend the Badgers will be hosting the defending NCAA Champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs who are currently ranked #1 in the country.
The last time you saw the Badgers was two weekends ago when they swept Mercyhurst 7-2, 5-2 at the Kohl Center. Mark Zengerle and Justin Schultz led the way for Wisconsin, notching a combined 15 points.
Minnesota-Duluth is coming off of a road sweep at Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs lost three of their first four games this the season but have since gone on a 12 game unbeaten streak (10-0-2).
The weekend off for the Badgers was a good opportunity for the coaching staff to push the tempo in practice.
"We pushed each other in practice. We did a lot of competitive drills. We had high tempo drills," head coach Mike Eaves noted Monday. "We covered a lot of details, and so I think we walk away from last week from the rink feeling good about ourselves and ready to continue on this week and get ready for Duluth."
This weekend marks the second time this season that the Badgers have hosted the #1 team in the country. A month ago Wisconsin split with then ranked #1 Minnesota at the Kohl Center. Eaves talked about the opportunity for his young squad facing the top ranked team.
"I think what it does, it brings out our best and gives us an opportunity to grow and maybe make some noise in terms of the national picture."
With juniors Derek Lee and Ryan Little both still out with hand injuries, the Badgers will once again feature a lineup of forwards this weekend entirely made up of freshmen and sophomores. Rookie Brendan Woods looks like he'll get another weekend playing on the top line with Zengerle and Tyler Barnes.
Woods has had an interesting few weeks. He went from the high of being handed additional playing time, to learning that his dad, Bob Woods was fired as the assistant coach of the Washington Capitals. However 24 hours later pops found the family a new home on the other side of the country, as he was hired as the new assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks.
The Badgers will once again rely on Zengerle and Barnes for major point contributions. Zengerle is tied for third in the country in points and is working on a 15 game point streak. Zengerle's streak is the fourth longest in program history.
You can't fault Eaves for getting stagnant. He's busted out some new line combinations this weekend that feature freshman Matt Paape playing center for the first time this season. He'll have Tyler Lapic and Sean Little on his wings. Little was injured in the Friday night game against Mercyhurst but looks ready to go this weekend.
Another interesting combination features Jefferson Dahl between Michael Mersch and Jason Clark. Mersch and Dahl showed a little chemistry playing together on the penalty kill last weekend when they recorded two goals in one short handed kill. Clark has shown flashes this season of why he was taken in the third round of the NHL Draft, maybe jump starting him with Mersch can get him going.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALIES
This weekend marks the return of freshman blue-liner Jake McCabe to the lineup. McCabe suffered a hand injury the third weekend of the year against North Dakota when a skate blade cut a tendon in his hand that required surgery.
McCabe had been playing on a pairing with Justin Schultz the first few weekends of the season but Eaves is looking to ease him back in this weekend. McCabe is currently paired up with Joe Faust for this weekend and will likely see some time on the power play as well.
Schultz and sophomore Frankie Simonelli remain the Badgers top pairing, at least for another week. In his weekly press conference Eaves talked about the way Simonelli just goes about his business.
"Frankie kind of just going to go out there and do his thing and be steady and pass and skate and being physical in front of the net."
I think it's safe to assume we'll see Joel Rumpel between the pipes on Friday night. Saturday night's net-minder will depend on the play of Rumpel on Friday. Rumpel and Landon Peterson have split the past two weekends, we'll see if that continues once again.
That's the name you're going to hear a lot this weekend. He's UMD's clear cut top forward and he's a serious contender for the Hobey Baker award. Connolly is tied with Zengerle and Schultz for third in the country in scoring and is working on a 14 game point streak of his own.
Connolly isn't the only threat on the Bulldogs roster. Sophomore J.T. Brown has taken his game to the next level this season and senior Travis Oleksuk leads the team in goals with 12. Also keep an eye on freshman Caleb Herbert, a Washington draft pick that has been turning heads this season.
The Bulldogs are third in the country in scoring at 4.12 goals per game so the Badger blue-liners are going to have to step up this weekend.
BULLDOG DEFENSE & GOALIES
One of the interesting things to consider when looking at UMD's defense this season is that they don't have any real standout stud defensemen. Last season Dylan Olsen (before he left the team) and Justin Faulk kind of stole the headlines. Olsen is now in the minors and Faulk is with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Bulldogs keep winning.
Much of that has to do with the play of senior Kenny Reiter between the pipes. Reiter is 11-2-2 this season and is the clear cut #1 for the Bulldogs. Reiter comes into the weekend sporting a 2.24 GAA and .918 save percentage.
Also look for senior defensemen Brady Lamb and Scott Kishel to jump up in the play this weekend for the bulldogs.
Friday night's game can be seen on the Big Ten Network. Saturday's game will be on TVW and rebroadcast on the Wisconsin Channel. Both games can be found on the radio on WIBA-1310.
REMEMBER: THE SATURDAY GAME STARTS AT 8 PM
Minnesota-Duluth is ranked #1 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Polls. Wisconsin is un-ranked.
Derek Lee (hand) and Ryan Little (hand) are both out for Wisconsin.
Wisconsin split in Duluth. UMD won the opener 2-0, and Wisconsin won the Saturday tilt 3-2. Wisconsin leads the all time series 88-60-13.
Freshman defenseman Jake McCabe who is making his return to the ice this weekend is related to Denver Bronco's wide receiver Eric Decker.
Andy Baggot had an interesting stat in his article this morning. Since Mike Eaves has led the Badgers, UMD and Wisconsin have played 15 one goal games including 10 that went to overtime. UMD has been the superior team this season but the Badgers have played well at the Kohl Center going 7-3 at home.
I think both of the games this weekend are going to be close but I think the Bulldogs get the better of the Badgers and come away with 3 points.
Friday: UMD 4, Wisconsin 2
Saturday: UMD 4, Wisconsin 4