It's another first for the Wisconsin men's hockey team as it gets set to skate in the inaugural Big Ten hockey tournament this weekend at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Thanks in part to a 13-6-1 record in the conference during the regular season, the Badgers were awarded the No. 2 seed in the tournament, which earned them a first-round bye in the process.
UW will match up with sixth-seeded Penn State in the semifinals on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. CT. The game will be shown live on the Big Ten Network, and can also be streamed for free on BTN2Go.
The Nittany Lions advanced to the semifinals after defeating third-seeded Michigan in double overtime on Thursday. The two teams battled through 92 minutes and 47 seconds of hockey before Zach Saar was able to sling a shot past Wolverines' goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.
Wisconsin last matched up with Penn State just two weeks ago on the road in Happy Valley. The Badgers swept the series, which culminated in an overtime victory off the stick of senior Mark Zengerle on a beautiful give-and-go play with Nic Kerdiles.
UW also swept PSU earlier this season in Madison.
Wisconsin is coming off a series split at Michigan State last weekend. The Badgers dropped the opener in overtime on Friday, but were able to battle back for the split in the finale despite playing without junior defenseman Jake McCabe.
"I like where we're at," head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "I like our focus. When you watch the video, our attention to detail is right where it needs to be. So I think we're at a good place right now."
It's expected that McCabe will be available when the Badgers hit the ice tomorrow against the Nittany Lions. McCabe suffered a laceration behind his ear after being hit by a puck last Friday night.
Eaves noted earlier this week that McCabe was progressing in the right direction.
"Today was a positive day," Eaves said on Monday. "We didn't do any hitting or grinding today, but he did all the skill stuff. He shot the puck. He conditioned at the end. So it was a very positive step."
Two players who will undoubtedly be in the lineup Friday for Wisconsin are Kerdiles and Zengerle, who lit the world on fire two weeks ago when they took the ice against Penn State. Each player finished the weekend with two goals and four assists in the two-game sweep.
Another player that must be brilliant for the Badgers to have success on Friday is goaltender Joel Rumpel. Thursday, the junior netminder was named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, just one day after being named a top-five finalist for the Mike Richter Award, which is given to the top goaltender in the nation.
Now that the Badgers are in postseason mode, Eaves says he expects the intensity to go to another level.
"When the weather warms up, kind of, and the season is done, there's a little extra jump in your step," Eaves said. "The purpose becomes more visible on a day-to-day basis. There's a finite point now that we're getting to and that really ramps up your emotional energy."