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Wisconsin hockey series preview: Michgian Tech

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Goaltender Jamie Phillips has been the backbone for Michigan Tech this season.
Goaltender Jamie Phillips has been the backbone for Michigan Tech this season.
Dave Reginek/Getty Images

After a long break over the holidays, the Wisconsin men's hockey team returns to the ice this weekend for a series against Michigan Tech at the Kohl Center.

It's certainly a change in roles for the Huskies and Badgers this season. Michigan Tech (14-4-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) comes into the weekend ranked No. 5 in the nation, while Wisconsin (1-10-1, 0-2-0 Big Ten) is not ranked.

The Huskies have played some of their best hockey on the road this season, going 8-0 in true away games. Fourth-year head coach Mel Pearson has Michigan Tech back in a position of national prominence for the first time since he was a player in 1981.

For the Badgers, the break was an opportunity to take a mental break from hockey according to head coach Mike Eaves.

"We talked about this break was an opportunity to reboot the computer," Eaves said. "Shut it down. Start it up again.

"But we want to make sure there is an understanding that there is a reality that happens when you restart the computer, things don't change, the fundamentals by which you play good hockey, you have to go back to those. Those are the areas of playing hard, smart and playing well as a team."

In an attempt to simplify what the coaching staff wants out of the players in the second half of the season, Eaves said the Badgers will focus on three areas of importance: Defensive zone coverage, blueline turnovers and manufacturing offense.

"In our own zone we were there, but we weren't there at times," Eaves said. "So we've got to pick up on that. I think our emphasis on blueline turnovers will continue. Whether you're a young team or an old team, that's an area you need to have your hands on.

"And if you take a look at our production, it's down in terms of goal scoring. We're going to have a mental attitude of manufacturing goals. I think that's an area that will become an emphasis for us in the second half as we move forward."

Wisconsin offense

One positive addition to the lineup this weekend will be the return of Adam Rockwood. The freshman center missed the previous four games after it was discovered that he had an enzyme deficiency. With a plan to manage the situation in place, Rockwood gives the Badgers another weapon on the offensive side of the rink.

"(Rockwood) has that offensive flair," Eaves said. "He can create some offense because of his natural ability."

Rockwood will jump back in the middle of the Badgers' top line between Joseph LaBate and Grant Besse, who were the top two point-producing forwards for Wisconsin in the first half with six and seven points, respectively.

That line, along with the group centered by Cameron Hughes, must find a way to create more offense for the Badgers in the second half.

Wisconsin defense and goaltenders

Another way the Badgers can produce more offense in the second half is by activating the defense. Using the defensemen, going low-to-high and making lateral plays will provide Wisconsin with more options in the attacking zone.

"In going down the stretch, I really liked what we did in our offensive zone where we went low-to-high," Eaves said. "Our defensemen were moving, we got people and pucks to the net.

"We need to do more of that and have that more consistent in our play and that will help manufacture more goals for us."

The return of Eddie Wittchow should help shore things up defensively. The junior blueliner broke a finger four games into the season and will make his return to the lineup Friday night after missing the previous eight games.

"We missed the big man," Eaves said. "Just because of (Wittchow's) physical presence. He can make a hit that can change the course of the game. We missed his presence; it will be good to have him back on the ice to give stability to our defensive core."

Michigan Tech scouting report

The Huskies' success this season starts from the net on out. Goaltender Jamie Phillips has been one of the top netminders in the nation this season with a 1.73 goals-against average and .938 save percentage.

"It's amazing what good goaltending will do for you," Eaves said. "It starts in the net. (Phillips) has made some phenomenal saves that we've seen in our video (review)."

Michigan Tech's offense is spread out over a number of players. The top scoring threat is Alex Petan with eight goals, but the Huskies feature a lineup with an incredible 11 players that have registered at least three goals this season. Senior center Tanner Kero leads the club in assists and plays in the middle of the Petan line along with junior Malcolm Gould, who has chipped in seven goals and seven assists of his own.

"You watch them play they play hard and they play pretty well together," Eaves said. "I don't think they have any superstar forwards if you look at their numbers, but they play well collectively. When you play well collectively it's like having a bunch of superstars. Everyone is pitching in, they accept their roles, they excel at it, and as a result they have good numbers in terms of wins and losses."

By the numbers

WISCONSIN MICHIGAN TECH
RECORD
1-10-1(0-2-0-0 Big Ten)
14-4-0 (10-2-0 WCHA)
SCORING OFFENSE
1.75/gm
3.43/gm
SCORING DEFENSE
3.42/gm
2.00/gm
POWER PLAY
11.10% 16.5%
PENALTY KILL
73.70%
89.7%
PAIRWISE RANKING
No. 57
No. 7
RPI
No. 57
No. 7
KRACH
No. 57
No. 4
AVG. HEIGHT/WEIGHT
5'11.89, 187.59 pounds 5'11.84, 186.58 pounds
AVG. AGE
21 years, 1 months
21 years, 7 months

Coverage

There is no TV coverage on Friday, but Saturday's game will be aired on BTN.

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.

Polls

Wisconsin is not ranked.

Michigan Tech is ranked No. 5 in both the USCHOand USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls.

Injuries

Eddie Wittchow (hand) is probable for Wisconsin.

Adam Rockwood (CPT II, genetic enzyme deficiency) is probable for Wisconsin.

Last meeting

Wisconsin and Michigan Tech tied on back-to-back nights Dec. 7-8, 2012. The two teams skated to a 1-1 draw Friday night, and Michigan Tech erased a 3-1 lead on Saturday to earn another tie in the finale.

Fun fact

Michigan Tech has two Wisconsin natives on the roster this season, sophomore defenseman Cliff Watson and junior forward C.J. Eick, both of Appleton. Watson is an alternate captain this season and was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in the 6th round of the 2012 NHL Draft. Watson was previously committed to Ohio State before Mark Osiecki was fired.

Projected lineup

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

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

Joel Rumpel - Landon Peterson

Badger Hockey Digest

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