Road trippin' with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It's time to leave this town
It's time to steal away
Let's go get lost
Anywhere in the USA
Red Hot Chili Peppers - Road Trippin'
Talk about a tale of different scripts. Last season the Wisconsin men's hockey team couldn't buy a victory on the road until they went on a run late in the season. This season the Badgers have struggled at home, but have found peace on the road where they've picked up 11 of their 13 WCHA points.
Last season, the Badgers won just five games on the road the entire season, and their first victory didn't come until January 13th. This year Wisconsin got that first road win out of the way in Duluth on October 26th, and have already recorded four victories away from the friendly confines of the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin will once again test their ability to play on the road as they travel to Mankato to take on one of the hottest teams in the country in Minnesota State University. The Mavericks swept the Badgers in Madison shortly before Thanksgiving, and have been able to use that as a springboard going forward. Including the Wisconsin series, MSU is 11-1 in their past 12 games.
Wisconsin is on a nice little run of their own, as they're undefeated in their past eight contests. That also happens to coincide with the return of freshman Nic Kerdiles from his ten game NCAA suspension. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves talked about why this team has found success after struggling to start the season.
"It all has to do with getting people back, getting healthy, those types of things," Eaves said. "It's funny how people say, well, what's different? We've got our people healthy and not suspended."
"Our game makers are back in the game and providing offense, and we have that in our ability now. So that's a key reason why we're on this little run that we're on right now."
So far this season, Wisconsin's top line offensively has been their "second line" of Derek Lee centering Joseph LaBate and Michael Mersch. Lee and Mersch had been carrying the offense most of the first half, but LaBate has really come into his own lately recording goals in three of his past five games.
"Derek Lee's line with Mersch and Joseph LaBate are playing as well as I've ever seen those guys playing together," Eaves said this week. "Saturday in the game, Joseph was playing at another level, and there's real good chemistry between Lee and Mersch."
Once again Wisconsin will try and get things going with their top group which features Mark Zengerle between Kerdiles and Tyler Barnes. The group has shown their ability to dominate at times but has yet to put together a true dominant game.
Wisconsin is also looking to get more offense out of their line centered by Brendan Woods. Keegan Meuer has been a regular right wing on that line, and Brad Navin and Matt Pappe have flip-flopped on the left side. This line has much more talent than it has shown at times, and needs to be able to provide an offensive spark for a team that has struggled to score goals at times.
BADGER DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
For the first time since November, Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson let in in more than one goal in a start last weekend, as Alaska Anchorage was able to sneak three past the Badger net-minder on 26 shots.
Peterson has been a welcomed surprise this season, and has arguably been the Badgers' best player. The Oregon, Wis. native is ninth in the country in save percentage (.936), and goals against average (1.81).
Fellow goaltender Joel Rumpel hasn't been so bad himself. The Swift Current, Sask. native picked up a shutout on Saturday stopping all 12 UAA shots. Rumpel's season numbers rival that of Peterson's, as he carries a .921 save percentage, and a 2.08 goals against average.
Peterson is expected to get the start on Friday night, but you can expect Eaves to come back with Rumpel in game two Satruday night.
The Badgers' defense will get a major lift this weekend with the return of Jake McCabe to the lineup. The Eau Claire, Wis. native had been in Russia for the World Junior Championships where he captained Team USA to a gold medal. McCabe was named to the tournament All-Star team for his three goal, three assist, +9 performance.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves coached Team USA to their first ever WJC gold medal in 2004, and talked about what he'd like McCabe to bring back with him to Wisconsin.
"The pace at which those games are played is phenomenal," Eaves said. "I would like for him to be able to come in and keep playing at that pace and hold on to that pace as long as he can and talk about the things that they did over there."
"He'll have that intrinsic knowledge of what it takes to be a winner at a high level and bring that into our locker room."
Minnesota States comes into the weekend with one of the top offenses in the country as they currently rank 11th in the nation, averaging 3.23 goals per game. That starts up front with a pair of sophomores in Matt Leitner and J.P. LaFontaine.
Mavericks' head coach Mike Hastings likes to split the two super-soph's up, as Leitner centers Minnesota State's top line and LaFontaine centers their second unit. Additionally, talented freshman Teddy Bluegar gives the Mavericks another scoring threat from the middle on their third line.
Minnesota State's leading goal scorer is senior Eriah Hayes who plays the right wing on LaFontaine's line. Hayes should sound familiar to Badger fans, as the La Crescent, MN. native had a great weekend at the Kohl Center back in November registering three of his team leading 12 goals vs the Badgers.
Third line wingers Johnny McInnis (10 goals), and Chase Grant (6 goals) also have the ability to put the puck in the back of the net at any time.
MAVERICK DEFENSE & GOALTENDERS
The biggest key to Minnesota State's current run has been the play of the defense, and the play of freshman goaltender Stephon Williams who has been absolutely lights out since ascending to the starters role between the pipes.
Williams played both games vs Wisconsin in November, and played well. On the season, Williams ranks eighth in the county in goals against average (1.77), and 16th in save percentage (.928).
Unfortunately Minnesota State will be without one of their better defensemen this weekend as Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. native Josh Nelson will be out with an injury. Nelson was also on the Mavericks' second power-play unit.
One of the more underrated defensemen in the league is MSU sophomore Zach Palmquist. The South St. Paul, Min. native chipped in a pair of assists vs Wisconsin in November and is one of the few defensemen on the Mavericks' roster who can provide offense from the blue-line. Palmquist has three goals and 11 assists for 14 points on the season.
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESS VS MINNESOTA STATE
- Create rebound opportunities and clean them up. If I remember correctly from the first series, Williams was leaving rebounds all over the place but the Mavericks' defenders were able to clear the garbage around the net. Wisconsin needs to get dirty and finish some rebounds.
- Take the crowd out of it. This is true for most road games, but especially this weekend in Mankato. When the fans get going, it can be a very loud building at the Alltel Center, especially after goals when they do their "Ole, Ole, Ole" chant. Wisconsin must come out strong from the get-go.
- Stay out of the penalty box. Minnesota State has a top-ten power-play and they'll make you pay if you're sitting in the box all night long.
BY THE NUMBERS...
|6-7-5 (4-5-5 WCHA)
|14-6-2 (8-6 WCHA)
|2.32 (t 14)
|81% (t 37)
|6' 0.15" / 187.92 lbs.
|6' 0.74" / 188.89 lbs.
|21 years, 3 months
|22 years, 2 months
There will be no TV coverage this weekend, but there is a live stream ($8/night) of both games. You can find a link to that stream HERE.
As always the games can be found on the radio on the Badger Sports Network and WIBA 1310.
Minnesota State is ranked #11 in both the USCHO.com, and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. Wisconsin is not ranked.
Morgan Zulinick (thigh) is out for Wisconsin.
Josh Nelson (hand) is out for Minnesota State.
Minnesota State swept Wisconsin at the Kohl Center in November with a pair of 4-2 victories.
J.P. LaFontaine is the nephew of former NHL great, Pat LaFontaine.
"We're undefeated in eight. I would say the wind is at our sails. Is it maxed out yet? I would tend to say no. I would want to say no. I would like to see us play even better, but the wind is definitely in our sails now, and we're going for it."--Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves
Nic Kerdiles-Mark Zengerle-Tyler Barnes
Joseph LaBate-Derek Lee-Michael Mersch
Ryan Little-Jefferson Dahl-Sean Little
Brad Navin-Brendan Woods-Keegan Meuer
Jake McCabe-Frankie Simonelli
Eddie Wittchow-Joe Faust
Kevin Schulze-John Ramage
Landon Peterson/Joel Rumpel
This is obviously a huge weekend for both teams who have been playing good hockey of late. Minnesota State swept Wisconsin earlier in the season, but the Badgers out-chanced the Mavericks in both games that weekend. This one is too tough to call for me, and usually in that case I have to go with a split.
Friday night: Wisconsin 3, Minnesota State 2
Saturday night: Minnesota State 4, Wisconsin 1.
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You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)