After earning a 2-1 win Friday afternoon over Penn State, the Wisconsin men's hockey team has advanced to the inaugural Big Ten tournament championship game. The Badgers will face off tonight at 7:00 p.m. CT against Ohio State, who upset top-seeded Minnesota last night, 3-1.
I'll be reporting live all night from the press box at the Xcel Energy Center. Make sure you're following me on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q) for live updates during the game.
The Buckeyes are fighting for their playoff lives, as they need to win the Big Ten's auto-bid to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament next week.
"You're playing for a chance to get a championship and play in the NCAA tournament," Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. "I think our guys are pretty excited about that chance."
The Badgers are in a much better position, as they are already assured to finish in the top seven of the PairWise rankings. Wisconsin still has a chance at earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and will likely do so with a win tonight along with a Ferris State loss in the WCHA title game.
Even though they've already sewn up a spot in the NCAA tournament, the Badgers would love to win the first Big Ten hockey tournament championship.
"We're still playing like it could be our last game," UW goaltender Joel Rumpel said. "We won the last WCHA (tournament). It's cool how it was. And we want to win the first Big Ten Tournament.
"So, not much has changed. We're still playing like if we lose we're dead. That's how I see it, anyway."
Michael Mersch was Wisconsin's best player on Friday afternoon, registering a game-high six shots on net while potting the Badgers' only two goals in the contest. UW head coach Mike Eaves is hoping Mersch can carry that momentum over to tonight's championship game.
"(Mersch) knows that one of his responsibilities on our team is to be on the score sheet," Eaves said. "He takes great pride in that. It's nice for him. That gives him confidence, and he gets that confidence, maybe he can stay up there for a while."
Jefferson Dahl picked up the primary assist on Mersch's first goal. The assist snapped a seven-game pointless streak for the senior center.
That line, which also features Morgan Zulinick, was arguably Wisconsin's best on Friday. That's a refreshing change for a group that had been in a bit of a slump.
"We've been been positive with each other just saying we're going to get it, it's going to come," Mersch said. "And lucky enough we worked hard tonight and were able to connect the dots and put the puck in the net."
The Badgers and Buckeyes split the season series, with both teams winning one home game and one road game for a 2-2-0 season record.
Friday's win over Penn State was Wisconsin's seventh in a row at the Xcel Energy Center. The Badgers won three games at last year's WCHA Final Five, two games at the 2010 NCAA West Regional and the third-place game at the WCHA Final Five in 2010.
UW last won consecutive conference tournament titles in 1982 and 1983 when the team won back-to-back WCHA playoff championships. Wisconsin also won consecutive WCHA Regional titles in 1977 and 1978, as well as in 1972 and 1973.
There are two Wisconsin natives on the Ohio State roster in sophomore center Tyler Lundey (Middleton), and junior left winger Max McCormick (DePere). McCormick is a 6th-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators.
OSU head coach Steve Rohlik should be a familiar name for Wisconsin fans as he helped team up with current UW assistant Gary Shuchuk on the Badgers' 1990 NCAA national championship team.
The star to keep an eye on tonight for the Buckeyes is Ryan Dzingel. The junior left winger was named to the All-Big Ten first team, and was also named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award. Dzingel leads the Big Ten in scoring, and has 21 goals and 23 assists for a total of 44 points overall on the season.
What you need to know:
Who: Ohio State (18-13-5, 6-9-5-4 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (23-10-2, 13-6-1-0 Big Ten)
What: Big Ten hockey tournament championship game
Where: Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minn.)
Rink Dimensions: 200x85
Game Time: 7:00 p.m CT
Television: Big Ten Network
Live Stats: Link
Radio: Badger Sports Network, WIBA 1310
Wisconsin line chart
Nic Kerdiles - Mark Zengerle - Tyler Barnes
Morgan Zulinick - Jefferson Dahl - Michael Mersch
Grant Besse - Joseph LaBate - Sean Little
Brad Navin - Keegan Meuer - Jedd Soleway
Kevin Schulze - Frankie Simonelli
Jake McCabe - Joe Faust
Eddie Wittchow - Chase Drake
Ohio State line chart
Max McCormick - Tanner Fritz - Anthony Greco
Ryan Dzingel - Nick Oddo - Nick Schilkey
David Gust - Tyler Lundey - Darik ANgeli
Alex Lippincott - Chad Niddery - Matt Johnson
Curtis Gedig - Josh Healey
Sam Jardine - AL McLean
Clark Cristofoli - Drew Brevig
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