Five days out from Friday's Regional, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves is already ruling out senior center Derek Lee, who has been nursing a knee injury for weeks.
"I don't think this weekend," Eaves said Sunday night when asked about Lee's chances of playing. "I think his realistic chance of playing will be in the Frozen Four."
Lee injured the knee Feb. 25 against Penn State and has missed the past four weekends. Thankfully for him, his teammates have picked up the slack in his absence, reeling off wins in eight of the nine games since he's been sidelined.
The most recent win on Saturday against Colorado College clinched the Broadmoor Trophy for the Badgers as WCHA Final Five playoff champions. The win also earned Wisconsin an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers will head east this weekend, as they are a No. 4 seed in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H. Wisconsin will take on No. 1 seed UMass-Lowell on Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. CT on ESPN3.com.
With Lee out of the lineup, Brendan Woods has seen his role increase, as he's been elevated to centering a line between Michael Mersch and Joseph LaBate.
The trio has combined for 21 points over the stretch of Lee's absence, and their offensive zone time has been noticeable over the past month. Mersch, Labate and Woods rank second, third and tied for fourth, respectively, in shots on goal per-game over their past nine contests, which is a good judge of the opportunities they are creating.
One underlying stat that shouldn't be overlooked is Woods' proficiency in the faceoff circle. The solidly built 6-foot-3, 215-pound Woods is able to leverage his frame on draws and leads the team in faceoff percent at .615 over the past month.
For the season, Woods leads the Badgers in overall faceoff percent at .568, with Jefferson Dahl next at .519. For reference, Lee was at .457 percent on draws before the injury.
That's not to say Lee hasn't been missed, because the Badgers can use all the offensive weapons they can get right now. Lee's .78 points per game still rank him fourth on the Badgers, behind only Nic Kerdiles, Mark Zengerle and Mersch in that category.
If the Badgers do go on a run to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, it stands to reason that Lee may have an opportunity to play. The Frozen Four semifinals would be 6 1/2 out from the initial injury. Provided the injury isn't a torn ACL, that general time frame would seem reasonable.
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