MADISON —The last time Michigan Tech and Wisconsin met, the Huskies were undefeated at 3-0-2. It was a surprising start for a team that went 5-30-1 the season before.
Then, history caught up with head coach Jamie Russell’s squad.
Wisconsin won both its games against Michigan Tech, taking 5-2 and 4-1 decisions en route to a series sweep.
Since then, MTU is 0-16-1. The Huskies haven’t won a game since October and sit at a record that’s more par for the course in Houghton — 3-18-3.
Meanwhile, the Badgers have caught fire, winners of 10 of their last 11. No. 8 Wisconsin sits at 17-8-3 and in fifth place in the WCHA, with 20 points.
Right now, though, the focus for Wisconsin is on the trip to the Upper Peninsula and a continuation of the team’s winning ways.
“They are a big team and I think on a big sheet of ice, with our abilities it minimizes it to some degree,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “I think going on a small sheet, it maximizes their ability to take away time and space. We’ll practice on a small sheet all week this week and having played, not this past weekend, but the weekend before, on a small sheet in Duluth should help us prepare for playing against them.”
Wisconsin’s last experience on a small sheet of ice came with mixed results — the Badgers split a series in Duluth with the offensively skilled Bulldogs, and although they came up with a 3-2 win in game two, they watched a 3-0 lead slip away late in the third period.
However, as Eaves mentioned, the issue with the Huskies will be size, rather than skill.
19 players on the MTU roster are at least six feet tall, as opposed to 11 for UW. Even more impressively, five players are 6-foot-4 or taller, including forwards Daniel Holmberg and leading scorer Milos Gordic (11-6-17).
Wisconsin maxes out at 6-foot-3, in forwards Sean Dolan and Gavin Hartzog. However, any size advantage the Huskies have held hasn’t helped in terms of game results.
Michigan Tech is dead last in the WCHA in scoring defense (4.38 goals allowed per game) and second to last in scoring offense, putting in just 2.29 goals per game. The Huskies have been shut out in three consecutive games and have scored three goals or more in a game just three times since the beginning of December.
Wisconsin’s nation-leading scoring defense (2.04 goals allowed per game) doesn’t bode well for Michigan Tech, nor does the Badgers’ 3.39 goals scored per game.
MTU fares slightly better on the power play, sitting middle of the pack in the conference with a 20-percent conversion rate. Wisconsin leads the WCHA with a 25.7-percent mark.
The success the Badgers have with the man-advantage could be an issue for the Huskies, who are next-to-last in penalty killing, with just a 74.2-percent mark.
But despite the struggles MTU is mired in — both this season and in past seasons — Eaves is making sure his team is ready to compete.
“You know, it’s trying to turn around a big ship in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes it takes time,” Eaves said of Russell and the Huskies. “And I know for one thing, they’re a wounded animal right now, and they’re going, they’re going to give us everything we have. And if we sit back at all, we’re going to have our hat handed to us.”