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Wisconsin hockey series preview: Colorado College, Denver

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Still in search of its first win, the Wisconsin men's hockey team travels to Colorado College and Denver for one game each this weekend.

Larry Radloff Photography

After yet another bye week, the Badgers are back in action as they head to Colorado this weekend for one game each against Colorado College and Denver. Friday's game (8:30 p.m. CT) vs. CC can be streamed on NCHC.tv, while Saturday's contest (8:00 p.m. CT) at Denver will be broadcast nationally on Root Sports Rocky Mountain.

Wisconsin is off to an 0-6 start, which is the worst since 1932, when UW dropped games to the Milwaukee Rowing Club, Michigan School of Mines and Minnesota. Sadly, I'm not making those names up.

Bill Parcells famously said you are what your record says you are. I agree. That said, looking forward, this is a team that has some talent and is going to find its first win soon.

"If I look at the standings right now and I see us 0-6 I'm shocked because they don't feel like an 0-6 team," head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "I feel like we played some decent hockey, we're going in the right direction, we recognize that we're a young group and if you walk in the locker room and you talk to our kids, they're not down, they're excited about coming to the rink.

"They know the direction in which they're going. Yes, we have to get a win because that will solidify what we have done in practice but right now the team is very upbeat."

In addition to the normal challenges of playing at altitude in Colorado, the Badgers also have to deal with playing in two different cities on back-to-back nights, and two significantly different ice arenas.

"Two different locations in two different sizes of sheets of ice," Eaves pointed out. "(CC) plays on a pond. It could be the Pacific ocean it's so big, then we will go to NHL 200 (feet) by 85 (feet) on Saturday. That will be a challenge. The first period in Denver on Saturday will be an interesting one."

Wisconsin offense

If I gave you 20 guesses as to who would be leading the Badgers in goals through six games, I'm not sure Chase Drake would have drawn a vote. But, alas, here we are. Wisconsin has scored just seven goals in six games, and the only player with more than one is Drake, who plays defense.

If we're going to look at recent positives, Grant Besse was significantly improved the last time UW hit the ice against North Dakota. The sophomore winger had a beautiful goal where he flashed his NHL-caliber wrist shot, and was the Badgers' top forward most of the night. That must continue this weekend if the Badgers are to have success on the scoreboard putting up goals.

Three other key players on the offensive end that need to continue to improve rapidly are freshmen Cameron Hughes, Adam Rockwood and Ryan Wagner. They're freshmen. I get that. But it's readily apparent that these three have offensive capabilities that some of the veteran forwards on this roster do not posses.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

The positive during the bye week is that you get a chance to work on things. Eaves singled out one-on-one play as a particular focus over the past few weeks of practice.

"Our ability to play without the puck was a big focus in terms of being able to shut people down one on one," Eaves said. "We can have a great defensive zone coverage system but if we can't do the job one on one then it's going to fall apart."

The bad news is that the Badgers suffered injuries to two of their top three defenseman during the North Dakota series. Junior Eddie Wittchow has been lost for the foreseeable with a broken finger, and freshman Jack Dougherty has been lost for at least this weekend with a lower-body injury.

With those two out, that means four freshmen defensemen will be on the ice when the Badgers drop the puck on Friday night vs. CC. That includes Cullen Hurley, who will be making his collegiate debut. Hurley was recruited by Wisconsin as a forward, but has experience on defense, as he spent the later half of last season with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL on the blueline.

According to the State Journal, Landon Peterson is expected to make his second start of the season between the pipes when the Badgers hit the ice Friday night in Colorado Springs. Joel Rumpel will get the nod vs. Denver on Saturday.

Colorado College

If there's a major program struggling as much as Wisconsin this season, it's Colorado College. With new head coach Mike Haviland behind the bench replacing the departed Scotty Owens, the Tigers are off to a 2-7 start and have been out-scored by a 43-16 margin.

To be fair, CC's schedule has been a gauntlet to this point. The two wins came over pushover Alabama-Huntsville, but the losses have come at the hands of Boston College, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Miami and Denver. Not exactly cupcakes.

Senior goaltender Josh Thorimbert has graduated and has been replaced by a combination of sophomore Tyler Marble and freshman Chase Perry. The Detroit Red Wings selected Perry in the 2014 NHL Draft after a fantastic season last year in the NAHL.

Also gone from the roster is forward Alexander Krushelnyski and defensemen Eamonn McDermott and Gustav Olofsson, who left the Tigers after just one season to sign with the Minnesota Wild.

Freshman defenseman Teemu Kivihalme from the Fargo Force in the USHL has been a pleasant surprise so far with three goals on the offensive end. Junior forward Cody Bradley has also been on the upswing, leading the team in both goals (4) and points (6), after notching 16 points as a sophomore. Junior forward Hunter Fejes had a disappointing 2013-14 season with just one point, but the Arizona Coyotes' draft pick has offensive ability and is waiting to bust out.

There are two Wisconsin natives on the CC roster this season with senior defenseman Aaron Harstad (Stevens Point) and junior forward Peter Maric (Milwaukee).

The crowd in Colorado Springs is expected to be a large one on Friday night. According to fantastic Colorado College beat writer Joe Paisley from the Colorado Springs Gazzette, there are only about 400 seats remaining for the contest.

Denver

Not only will the Badgers be facing a Colorado College team with a new head coach, they'll face a Denver team this weekend led by a coach they aren't familiar with, either. Jim Montgomery is the new bench boss for the Pioneers, now in his second season after replacing George Gwozdecky, who was fired after the 2013 season. Wisconsin didn't play Denver last season.

The Pioneers are off to a 6-3 start to the season, and are coming off a drubbing of rival Colorado College last weekend, 8-1. Five of Denver's six wins have come at home, where the Badgers will have to adjust to the small ice surface after playing at the Olympic rink in Colorado Springs on Friday.

Goaltender Sam Brittain has finally moved on and has been replaced by Evan Cowley. A 4th-round NHL Draft selection by the Florida Panthers, Cowley was great in limited action last season and has carried that over for his sophomore season.

Outside of Brittain, the Pioneers returned virtually everyone else and have been aided by a freshman off to a hot start. Of course I'm referring to Danton Heinen, who joins Denver after a fabulous BCHL career with the Surrey Eagles. Heinen is tied for the team lead in goals (5) and is second in points (10).

The biggest name on the roster is defenseman Joey LaLeggia. The senior rear-guard has offensive capabilities that few others in college hockey possess. LaLeggia has five goals and eight points to start the season, and recently reached the 100-point plateau in his four-year career.

Coverage

There is no TV coverage on Friday, but Saturday's game will be aired live on Root Sports Rocky Mountain.

You can stream Friday's game on NCHC.tv.

As always, Brian Posick will call the games on the radio this weekend. You can find his call on WIBA 1310 (Friday), WTSO 1070 (Saturday) and also on the Badger Radio Network.

Polls

Wisconsin is not ranked.

Colorado College is not ranked.

Denver is ranked N0. 10 in the USCHO.com poll, and No. 11 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Injuries

Jack Dougherty (lower-body) is out for Wisconsin.

Eddie Wittchow (broken finger) is out for Wisconsin.

Last meeting

Wisconsin defeated Denver, 3-1, in a three-point weekend, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2012. The Badgers swept Colorado College last year in December, completed by a 4-3 overtime victory.

Fun fact

Wisconsin's power-play goal on Friday, Nov. 7, ended a 0-for-20 power-play stretch to open the season. The Badgers are now 1-for-25 with the man advantage (4.0 percent).

Projected lineup

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

Kevin Schulze - Keegan Ford
Chase Drake - Cullen Hurley
Tim Davison - Jake Linhart

Landon Peterson - Joel Rumpel

Badger Hockey Digest

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