After sweeping Michigan the last time the two teams were conference rivals in 1981, No.14 Wisconsin picked up right where it left off against the Wolverines. Playing its first series against Michigan since ‘81, Wisconsin registered a 5-2 start-to-finish victory on Friday night and delivered another stellar effort on Saturday to earn a 3-1 decision. Saturday's game was watched by a season-high 14,273 fans.
What's the Impact
There was no question that last weekend's performance against Alaska-Anchorage didn't sit well with the Badgers. Earning a split at home against a .500 team who hadn't won a road game entering that weekend was damaging to the resume and somewhat to the psyche. There's nothing but good vibes in this one.
Sweeping its first ranked opponent since last March, improved to 3-4-0 this season against top 10 teams and swept its first top 10 opponent since October 2011, the Badgers arguably got their two biggest wins of the season in back-to-back nights.
"This is a big time one," said senior defenseman Frankie Simonelli, who scored the first goal Saturday. "We took some good growth this week. We went through a lot as a team throughout the week in practice, and it paid off on the weekend. It definitely was a stepping stone toward where we need to be and the championship-caliber hockey we need to be playing."
Who was the Weekend MVP
Michael Mersch had three goals, Jefferson Dahl had four points and Brad Navin did great work setting up his linemates on Friday night, creating a dominating second line for the Badgers, but junior goalie Joel Rumpel was outstanding. After stopping 27 shots Friday, Rumpel made 28 saves Saturday, including a handful of one-on-one or clutch saves to protect the lead.
He stopped Phil Di Giuseppe in an one-on-one situation with a pad save midway through the first, made a stick save on a rising shot by JT Compher and delivered a glove save of Andrew Copp's blast from the right circle.
"I thought he was sharper in his movements," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "He was good."
Three Areas of Concern
Nic Kerdiles' health: Senior Sean Little (shoulder) expects to return to the lineup for the Badgers' next series, but Kerdiles is a bigger question mark. After missing the first game last weekend because of flight issues and the second when his skate stuck into the ice, propelling him into the boards, Kerdiles didn't dress for the two-game set. In reality he wasn't even in the state, reportedly going back to California to spend time with his family.
UW's offense survived without him because of Mersch's outburst Friday, but the Badgers need that big weapon in the lineup come February.
Power Play: One of the biggest problems Wisconsin dealt with last year was its power play, which was extraordinary bad at 13 percent (54th out of 59 teams). It is starting to approach that level of deficiency this year, as the Badgers are 2-for-25 (8.0 percent) in their last seven games, including 0-for-5 against Michigan.
Kerdiles being out takes some zip out of the lineup, but the Badgers were a hair off all weekend and are tied for 43rd in the country on the man advantage (12-for-78, 15.4 percent)
Top Line: Nitpicking slightly because of how good the weekend was for Wisconsin, but the Badgers didn't get any goal production from its top line. Of the eight goals on the weekend, UW's top line only registered two secondary assists.
Three Areas of Excitement
Penalty Kill: The top penalty kill unit in the Big Ten was critical in Wisconsin's Friday-night victory, stymieing the Wolverines first four power play opportunities to buy some time to allow UW's offense to find a rhythm.
"We did a good job of starting off with faceoffs," said Badgers' junior Matt Pappe Friday night. "A lot of times, we win the first faceoff, getting 200-foot pucks right away, making them dump in it on the forecheck and just win the battles. Get fresh guys out there and keep rolling with that."
The performances waere even more impressive considering UW is without Little (one of its top penalty killers) and Michigan gave a number of looks on the man advantage that UW had not seen in its pre-scout.
"We had to pay special attention to what they were doing," said Eaves, acknowledging the different formations. "[We] blocked a lot of shots. They worked together as a group of four at the right times."
Wisconsin went 2-for-3 on the penalty kill on Saturday and has stopped 83.1 percent (64-for-77) of the man advantages they have faced this season.
Joel Rumpel:As mentioned above, Rumpel was outstanding. He improved his mark to 10-1-0 on the season, a .909 winning percentage that ranks him first nationally.
Atmosphere: Eaves never makes opening statements, so it really meant something when he held off questions after Friday's win at the top of his post game press conference to compliment the 9,000+ fans who braved the icy conditions to come out to the rink. With over 14,000 fans coming out on Saturday, it was evident that the team fed off the environment.
"It was a packed house," said center Joseph LaBate. "You can feel that when you are on the ice. You can feel the excitement the crowd is giving you, and the whole team just built off that."
"In terms of moving closer and identifying and confirming what our team identity is, playing against a top opponent like this really goes a long way. (We) figure(ed) out how to win battles. We talked to the kids how every game is a riddle with no textbook answers. We found those answers this weekend as a group of people." – Eaves.
Wisconsin takes its sixth bye week of the season before concluding its 10-game home stand against Ohio State. The Buckeyes (11-6-1, 1-2-1-0 Big Ten) are coming off a four-point weekend at home against Michigan State and will travel to No.1 Minnesota next weekend, with Friday's game being played outdoors at TCF Bank Stadium.
Ohio State has one of the premier players in the league in Ryan Dzingel, who had three unanswered third-period goals in the Buckeyes' 5-3 victory over Michigan State Friday. Dzingel, who has his 20-point scoring streak in the last 10 games end Saturday, recorded the first hat trick in Big Ten history, just a couple hours before Mersch recorded his.
Wisconsin and Ohio State have only met 11 times on the ice. The Badgers won the first 10 meeting between the two schools before the Buckeyes won the most recent meeting, a 5-3 decision on October 13, 2007 in the Lefty McFadden tournament in Dayton, OH. Eight of the teams' meetings came between 1965-69.