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Wisconsin hockey series preview: Northern Michigan

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After losing twice last weekend in a season-opening trip to Alaska, Wisconsin looks to bounce back against Northern Michigan in Green Bay.

Larry Radloff Photography

After losing back-to-back games last weekend at the Kendall Hockey Classic against Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, Wisconsin is ready to jump back in the saddle again this weekend against Northern Michigan.

The big storyline for the Badgers this season is their youth. Wisconsin brought in 11 freshmen this year, and also have two redshirt freshmen on the roster. 10 of those players saw the ice last weekend, with both goals coming from rookies.

"Our freshmen got more confidence and felt better after the first game," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "The fun thing is that there is so much more potential that these kids have. You can kind of see glimpses of what they can do. As they get more comfortable and learn the systems and we're able to teach them some different techniques, they're going to blossom."

As has been recent tradition, the Badgers and the Wildcats will lace up their skates in Green Bay to battle it out at the Resch Center. It's a unique opportunity for UW fans in the Fox Valley area to catch Wisconsin in a regular season series.

"There's good hockey up there -- people are very knowledgeable about the game," Eaves said. "It's not too far for our fans to travel, or Northern Michigan, so we had good crowds up there the last time we did this."

This also gives the Badgers an opportunity to square off against a quality, veteran opponent in Northern Michigan. The Badgers have faced NMU in non-conference play quite a bit over the past few years, which is a welcomed challenge according to Eaves.

"(Northern Michigan head coach) Walt Kyle is one of my all-time favorite people. It's always good to knock heads with him." Eaves said. "His teams are usually big, they can skate, they work hard and they have big goaltenders. So, it's a good early season test for our kids once again."

Wisconsin offense

The good: Wisconsin's third line featuring freshmen Matt Ustaski, Ryan Wagner and Adam Rockwood continued to improve as the weekend went along in Alaska. They scored the Badgers' first goal of the season in Saturday's game, and often found themselves with possession in UW's offensive zone. For a trio of freshmen, they were up to the challenge opening weekend.

The bad: Some of the upperclassmen were non-factors during the Alaska trip. Joseph LaBate, Brad Navin and Grant Besse all had opportunities here and there, but didn't do nearly enough damage in the opening series. Plus, LaBate took a number of uncharacteristic penalties that put the Badgers on their heels far too often.

The ugly: Wisconsin was able to manage just 14 shots on goal in the season opener against Alaska on Friday. While shots are obviously not the end-all, be-all, the Badgers' offense looked extremely meager in the opener. They were better on Saturday, and will have to build upon that momentum going into the Northern Michigan series this weekend.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

The good: Landon Peterson was great between the pipes for the Badgers on Friday night against Alaska, stopping 30 of 31 shots in the 1-0 loss. Everyone was surprised when Peterson was given the start, but he stood up to the challenge and played great.

For the record, the reason given for Joel Rumpel not starting on Friday was that he needed to take three mid-term exams on the trip to Alaska, including one at 6:30 a.m. Friday morning. Eaves didn't think he was mentally capable of playing in the opener against the Nanooks.

The bad: Losing Eddie Wittchow to injury on Friday night. The junior defenseman didn't return to action against Alaska and was scratched in the series finale against Anchorage. It looks like Wittchow will be able to play on Friday against Northern Michigan, which is a huge relief for the Badgers.

The ugly: Has to be Tim Davison's injury on Saturday against Alaska Anchorage. There has been much debate over the hit. Brett Cameron was suspended one game by the WCHA for contact to the head. I think it looks much worse than it actually is, and is only accentuated by Davison's helmet popping off from the force of the collision. Davison is out indefinitely with a concussion, although he felt well enough to attend classes this week, which is a positive sign.

Northern Michigan offense

Like Wisconsin, Northern Michigan lost some talented forwards up front. Gone is leading point-producer and goal-scorer Stephan Vigier. So is fellow departing senior Erik Higby.

Dominik Shine and John Siemer showed potential for NMU in their rookie seasons with 17 and 18 points respectively as freshmen last year. Bruising sophomore Shane Sooth and senior Ryan Daugherty will also be tasked with helping the offense put points on the board this weekend.

Incoming freshman Robbie Payne from the Chicago Steel (USHL) should be able to supplement the offense, as should Zach Diamantoni, who put up 50 points in 58 games in the BCHL last season for the Chilliwack Chiefs.

Northern Michigan defense and goaltenders

The biggest key for NMU is bringing back goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom. The Swedish goaltender had a strong rookie year, playing in 36 games with a 2.64 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage. I would expect to see Dahlstrom between the pipes in both games this weekend.

The two biggest losses on the defensive side for the Wildcats are CJ Ludwig and Wade Epp. Both players had played in well over 100 games for Northern Michigan during their four-year careers.

Mitch Jones had a huge junior season for the Wildcats, playing a strong two-way game and adding 23 points on the offensive end. Jones will undoubtedly be a player to keep an eye on this weekend, as he is the leading returning scorer for NMU coming into the season.

By the numbers


WISCONSIN
NORTHERN MICHIGAN
RECORD
0-2-0 (0-0-0-0 Big Ten)
0-0-0 (0-0-0-0 WCHA)
SCORING OFFENSE
1.00/gm
N/A
SCORING DEFENSE
2.50/gm
N/A
POWER PLAY
0.0% N/A
PENALTY KILL
83.3%
N/A
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 21
N/A
RPI
No. 24
N/A
KRACH
N/A N/A
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
6'00.00, 189.23 pounds 5'11.93, 188.23 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 0 months
22 years, 8 months

Coverage

There is no TV this weekend, but both games will be available via the WCHA streaming service. The fee is $12 per game.

As always, the fabulous Brian Posick will call the games on the radio this weekend. You can find his voice on WIBA 1310 and also on the Badger Radio Network.

Polls

Wisconsin is ranked No. 18 in the USCHO and is receiving votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Northern Michigan is not ranked in either poll.

Injuries

Wisconsin: Eddie Wittchow (concussion) is probable. Tim Davison (concussion) is out.

Last meeting

Wisconsin opened up last season by hosting Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center in Madison. The Badgers swept the Wildcats in the series, 5-2 on Friday and 2-1 on Saturday.

Fun fact

Wisconsin is 3-2-1 when playing at the Resch Center in Green Bay, and 4-2-1 in the city overall. In addition to the six games at the Resch Center, the Badgers also defeated Ohio State, 4-2, at Lambeau Field Feb. 11, 2006, in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic.

Wisconsin is 1-2-1 against Northern Michigan in Green Bay. The Badgers' two other wins came during the 2006 NCAA regional tournament, when UW defeated Bemidji State and Cornell to advance to the Frozen Four. Wisconsin went on to win the national championship that season at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

Projected lineup

Brad Navin - Joseph LaBate - Grant Besse
Morgan Zulinick - Jedd Soleway - Cameron Hughes
Matt Ustaski - Ryan Wagner - Adam Rockwood
Aidan Cavallini - Matt Paape - Corbin McGuire

Kevin Schulze - Jack Dougherty
Eddie Wittchow - Keegan Ford
Chase Drake - Jake Linhart

Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson

Badger Hockey Digest

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