To state the obvious, the 2014-15 hockey season hasn't started the way the Wisconsin men's hockey team wanted. The squad has scored just three goals in four games and could only muster a tie against Division III St. Norbert in a scrimmage during the Badgers' bye weeks.
If you were going to envision a way to start a hockey season, losing your first four games with No. 2 ranked North Dakota coming to town for your next series wouldn't be the scenario you might draw up. The only thing worse would be if the Badgers had to travel to Grand Forks this weekend.
"I'm glad it's not in North Dakota," head coach Mike Eaves said this week. "I think that would be a real jumping into the deep end, probably jumping off a 10 meter board into the deep end it would be more like if we were playing there."
Despite the lack of momentum heading into the home opener this weekend at the Kohl Center, Eaves is content with his team's development since they were swept against Northern Michigan two weeks ago in Green Bay.
"We've had good moments, tough moments, but I think if we were to sit back and take a look at the weeks we've had here, we feel as a staff, I think if you talk to the guys, they would say we're better now than we were two weeks ago," Eaves said. "It's been a grind. There's been a lot of battles. I know they're anxious to play against somebody else at this point, but that's a good thing."
Wisconsin obviously has a lot to improve upon in all areas, but Eaves says his team has made strides across the board.
"I would say all our areas five on five, starting in our own zone, defensive zone coverage, our forecheck, our forecheck neutral zone, our breakouts in the neutral zone," Eaves said. "We spent a lot of time on those areas. What we saw when we were watching video were that the inconsistencies going from defensive zone coverage into a forecheck in the neutral zone, well, who is going where, what are they doing, and there was a hesitation.
"We have the luxury of being able to film all of our practices and break it down and give it back to the kids the next day. It's coming quicker, it's being more consistent. Those are healthy signs."
In terms of this weekend's series, there's no doubt the Badgers are looking for revenge from last season's NCAA tournament loss. Everyone remembers UND ending UW's season at the Midwest Regional, when top-seeded Wisconsin laid an egg and were eliminated by North Dakota, 5-2.
This upcoming series is the first of four that the Badgers and UND will play over the next few seasons. Eaves said it's good to have the former WCHA foe on the schedule.
"We want to stay in contact because I think they're always going to be an elite program and you want to test yourselves against that. "
To say Wisconsin's offense has been anemic this season may be an understatement. The Badgers have scored just three goals through four games and one came when the result of the contest was already secured.
The coaching staff has changed the line combinations since the Badgers last played an official game, moving freshmen Cameron Hughes and Adam Rockwood to center on the top two lines, while Joseph LaBate and Jedd Soleway move off to the wing.
"Well, if you take a look at our roster from last year and you see the list and you see who left, I mean, that was the glowing question, who was going to pick it up, and up to this point we haven't found that answer," Eaves said. "Although in our little scrimmage that we had with St. Norbert, one thing that probably not a lot of people know is that Adam Rockwood had a goal and two assists, multiple point person and was a freshman.
"That question there is still one to be answered. I know our older guys are pressing a little bit. They want to be the guy, and I think they just settle in and that'll take care of itself as we move forward here."
A huge part of the problem through the first four games has been the Badgers' lack of jam on the offensive end. They are dumping the puck in the offensive zone too frequently, and when they dump the puck, they aren't making a strong enough effort to retrieve the puck. Basically, they're giving up possession every time they cross the red line and aren't making a strong enough push to get it back. That's a recipe for scoring three goals in four games.
That obviously won't fly against North Dakota.
Wisconsin defense and goaltenders
The defense has been average through four games. They haven't provided much on the offensive end, but haven't been tremendously poor defensively either. There has been a few breakdowns in front of the net that are inexcusable. That's led to a few goals. But they've also been hurt with some bad luck as well. There's going to be a learning curve with four freshmen getting their feet wet this season.
As for goaltender Joel Rumpel, obviously numbers aren't great through three games thus far, but he's had a few deflections end up in the back of the net and also had a defensive breakdown or two cost him.
Backup goaltender Landon Peterson was strong in his only action of the season, stopping 30 of 31 shots in the season opener. Eaves said that Peterson has closed the gap in the goaltending race.
"I think that we had talked about at the beginning of the year that Rumps had separated himself a little bit because of his play of last year, but you know that separation has closed based on what we've seen, and in no uncertain terms, we've talked to Rumps about that. He's very much aware of it"
North Dakota scouting report
The big storyline this weekend is the return of the Schamltz brothers to the Kohl Center. Nick, a freshman forward who was drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, and Jordan, a sophomore defenseman who was drafted in the first round by the St. Louis Blues, hail from Verona.
To make things even more intriguing, Jordan originally committed to play for the Badgers back when he was in 8th grade. Schmaltz later decommitted after former Wisconsin assistant coach Mark Osiecki left to take the head coaching job at Ohio State.
Nick is a gifted passer who has six assists in seven games already as a freshman. Jordan is a finesse defenseman who can run the power play for UND.
Other offensive players to keep an eye on this weekend include Drake Caggiula and Michael Parks. The Badgers catch a bit of a break as North Dakota will be without the services of Mark MacMillan this weekend after he underwent wrist surgery two weeks ago.
Another forward to keep an eye on this weekend is captain Stephane Pattyn. While he's not much of a threat to score, Pattyn has the ability to rev up the Wisconsin/North Dakota rivalry. There's no doubt he'll be in the thick of a few scrums this weekend.
Defensively, freshman Tucker Poolman has drawn rave reviews to start the season. UND is very deep on the back end, with Paul LaDue and Troy Stecher having offensive capabilities and Nick Mattson and Gage Ausmus also contributing.
Between the pipes, Zane McIntyre has been tough on Wisconsin in throughout his career. McIntyre is 2-0-1 with a 1.30 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in three career starts against the Badgers. For the season McIntyre is 5-0-1 with a .931 save percentage.
By the numbers
||0-4-0 (0-0-0-0 Big Ten)
||5-1-0 (2-0-0-0 NCHC)
||6'00.00, 189.23 pounds||6'0.35, 194.81 pounds
||21 years, 1 months
||21 years, 7 months|
There is no TV coverage on Friday, but Saturday's game will be aired live on the Wisconsin Channel.
You can stream Friday's game on BTN Plus for a fee. Saturday's game will stream for free on BTN2Go.com.
As always, Brian Posick will call the games on the radio this weekend. You can find his call on WIBA 1310 and also on the Badger Radio Network.
Wisconsin is not ranked.
North Dakota is ranked No. 2 in both the USCHO poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.
Tim Davison (concussion) is questionable for Wisconsin.
Mark MacMillan (wrist laceration) is out for North Dakota.
Last season North Dakota defeated Wisconsin, 5-2, at the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati.
This is the latest the Badgers have opened up the home schedule since 1997-98. That year they hosted Minnesota Nov. 7. Wisconsin hosted the Ice Breaker that season, but the games against Michigan and Clarkson were considered exhibitions.
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 - Jack Dougherty
Eddie Wittchow - Keegan Ford
Chase Drake - Jake Linhart
Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson
Badger Hockey Digest
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