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Wisconsin hockey series preview: Minnesota

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Friday's game at Minnesota is a late start (8 p.m. CT) on the Big Ten Network, while Saturday's contest is early (5 p.m.) on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin due to Hockey Day Minnesota.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Despite Wisconsin's gloomy 2-12-2 record, there are times in which you see glimmers of hope. There were more than a few of those last weekend when the Badgers hosted 2nd-ranked Boston University.

UW carried a late 3-1 lead on the Terriers in the opener before stumbling to a 3-3 tie. Despite a 6-1 loss in the finale, Wisconsin out-shot BU in the contest. The Badgers also reached the 30-plus shot plateau for the first two times this season.

While the wins weren't there, the effort was significantly improved last weekend and Wisconsin appeared as if it was a team that could skate with some of the top teams in the nation on a good day. The Badgers will have to keep digging for more as they go on the road this weekend for a two-game series vs. Minnesota.

The Gophers were projected by everyone to walk to a Big Ten title this season but Minnesota has found a rough patch of road over its latest stretch. After starting the year 7-1, the Gophers are just 3-6-1 over their past 10 games, and were swept last weekend at Michigan.

Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox didn't look like himself in the series vs. the Wolverines, giving up 4 goals in the opener and then five in the finale on just 16 shots before being pulled in favor of freshman backup Nick Lehr.

While there's no question the Gophers have a talented roster, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves suspects they are still looking for more chemistry in the room.

"What you can't project is how a team comes together and the chemistry they develop," Eaves said. "As far as Minnesota, from what I understand, they haven't found this year's identity yet, so they've struggled a little bit."

Eaves also noted that his group is still looking to grow as a team as well.

"We're still trying to find (chemistry) as we grow as a young team," Eaves said. "It's that team that finds that chemistry that goes to another level in their team play.

"So, we're going into Minnesota, it's always a great rivalry, we've got kids from this state here that are going home, we're looking forward to the challenge."

Wisconsin offense

Despite only scoring four goals on the weekend, there were some positive things to note from last weekend vs. Boston University. As previously mentioned, Wisconsin's shot totals are trending in a positive direction. The Badgers had strong possession at times and were able to use that to generate chances.

The line that really stood out was the "Western Canada" line that features left wing Morgan Zulinick (Kamloops, British Columbia), center Cameron Hughes (Edmonton, Alberta) and right wing Jedd Soleway (Vernon, British Columbia).

Zulinick had points in both games, which extended his streak to seven games. The redshirt sophomore now leads the Badgers in points this season with nine points in 16 games. Soleway also added a goal in each game, bringing his total to three on the season.

"Well that whole line has been good," Eaves said. "They really found their stride this past weekend."

Still looking for his first goal, Hughes was very noticeable vs. the Terriers and is showing why he was such a highly recruited player coming out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

"Cameron actually played one of his best games over the weekend, you noticed him a lot," Eaves said. "His skating, he had five shots on Saturday. He's going to be fun to watch in his career here."

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

When you play with fire, you are going to get burnt. The Badgers juggled torches a few too many times last weekend against the Terriers and the puck ended up in the back of the net.

The most egregious error came in Friday's game with Wisconsin clinging to a 3-2 lead. BU pulled the goaltender and freshman Jack Dougherty picked up a loose puck in the corner in UW's defensive zone with just a few seconds to play. Instead of eating the puck against the boards, Dougherty tried to clear it out of the zone and fired it around the wall. The clearing attempt was picked off, and quickly led to the game-tying goal from the Terriers.

A costly mistake, but certainly one that Dougherty and everyone else on the roster can learn from moving forward.

One thing to watch this weekend is how Wisconsin plays on the penalty kill. The Badgers have been atrocious in that area of late, killing off just 16 of their past 25 attempts (64 percent) in the last six games. Minnesota has the top ranked power play in the country this season, converting at 29.9 percent on the year. That's a recipe for disaster if Wisconsin gets into penalty trouble.

Minnesota scouting report

If we're going to talk about Minnesota we have to start with Seth Ambroz, better known as the Badger killer. The senior forward has seven goals in 11 career games against Wisconsin, which has to be some sort of record.

"I get excited to play Wisconsin as everyone does," Ambroz told SB Nation College Hockey this week. "Like I said, I've been lucky enough to have the puck to go in against these guys. Hopefully it continues to stay that way."

Sophomore Connor Reilly is having a huge year for the Gophers with 10 goals in 18 games after scoring just six as a freshman. His brother, Mikey, a defenseman, is one of the premier blueliners in the country and has 20 points already this season.

Kyle Rau returns for his 17th season on campus and leads the team in scoring with 21 points (7 goals, 14 assists). Other offensive threats include Justin Kloos and Taylor Cammarata.

Minnesota received a boost last weekend when Brady Skjei returned on defense after an injury. The junior is a former first-round NHL Draft pick and one of the more talented defensemen in the country.

All-in-all, the Gophers may have one of the deepest groups of defensemen in college hockey. All eight players are NHL Draft picks, which makes picking six for the every-night lineup a chore. It appears as if Jack Glover and Steve Johnson have been the two odd-men out lately, but with Michael Brodzinski recently banged up, one of those two may draw into the lineup Friday night vs. the Badgers.

As I mentioned previously, Wilcox didn't look like himself vs. Michigan last weekend and really hasn't played up to his All-American status the entire year. The junior has a .910 save percentage, but has allowed at least three goals in five of his last seven starts.

By the numbers

WISCONSIN MINNESOTA
RECORD
2-12-2 (0-2-0-0 Big Ten)
10-7-1, (1-2-1-0 Big Ten)
SCORING OFFENSE
1.75/gm
3.39/gm
SCORING DEFENSE
3.62/gm
2.56/gm
POWER PLAY
10.20% 29.9%
PENALTY KILL
71.90%
81.1%
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 54
No. T-14
RPI
No. 54
No. 15
KRACH
No. 50
No. 19
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5'11.89, 187.59 pounds 5'11.70, 187.85 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 2 months
21 years, 1 months

Coverage

Friday's game will be televised on BTN (8:00 p.m CT start), while Saturday's game will be on Fox Sports North and Fox Sports Wisconsin (5:00 p.m. CT start).

Both games 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.

Polls

Wisconsin is not ranked.

Minnesota is ranked No. 16 in the USCHO.com poll, and No. 13 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

Injuries

Wisconsin: None.

Minnesota: Michael Brodzinski is questionable.

Last meeting

Wisconsin swept then No. 1 Minnesota last February 6-7 at the Kohl Center,

Fun fact

Sophomore winger Jedd Soleway doubled his career goal-scoring total in one weekend vs. Boston University. Soleway entered the weekend with just two goals, but scored in both games vs. the Terriers.

Projected lineup

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

Kevin Schulze - Jake Linhart
Eddie Wittchow - Jack Dougherty
Tim Davison - Chase Drake

Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson

Badger Hockey Digest

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