HOUGHTON, Mich. - After getting robbed in Denver, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team went on its longest unbeaten streak in two seasons.
After the Badgers got their heart’s broken last Saturday, how will the Badgers respond?
Wisconsin fans will find out when the No.11 Badgers (12-11-5, 8-9-3 WCHA) play as part of Winter Carnival for the first time since 2000, taking on the Michigan Tech Huskies (10-12-4, 6-9-3 WCHA) in a two-game series beginning Friday.
This will be the third trip for Wisconsin during Houghton’s annual Winter Carnival, with UW sweeping the Huskies in 2000 and 1990 and being swept in 1973.
The winner of the weekend series is awarded the coveted John MacInnes Memorial Cup in a two-game total-goals series format.
While it doesn’t seem like much, if Wisconsin returns home without two wins and the Memorial Cup, the Badgers probably will have left their NCAA tournament hopes buried in the Michigan snow.
The Badgers are tied with Minnesota Duluth for fourth in the WCHA with 19 points, one point in front of sixth-place Minnesota State for the last home playoff spot, and just five points separate the Badgers from ninth-place St. Cloud State.
But where Wisconsin is in trouble is in the all important PairWise Rankings – a system used by the NCAA tournament selection committee. Falling to 15th after last weekend, the Badgers need to be in the top 12 at the end of the season to ensure themselves a birth in the tournament; a birth that would guarantee them home ice for the first two rounds.
With eight games remaining before the WCHA playoffs and all of UW’s games against teams below them in the standings, the Badgers know that nobody in the physical WCHA should be taken lightly.
“Anybody in this league can beat anybody on any given night if you’re not ready to play and play well,” UW coach Mike Eaves. “It just continues to amaze us, as a staff, how we are ranked nationally and our records are a little above .500. We’ve been around long enough to know that anybody can beat anybody on any given night.”
The biggest change for the Badgers will be getting use to Tech’s smaller ice rink. While the Badgers play in an Olympic-sized rink at the Kohl Center (roughly 200 feet by 115 feet), UW will have to get use to a 200 x 85 foot rink in Houghton, forcing the Badgers to make quicker decisions with the puck and perfect it their communications.
“Things happen at a little quicker pace,” Eaves said. “Before you get the puck, you better know what you’re going to do with it and you better have a plan of what you’re going to do with it once you get it. So that simplifies the game to a degree.”
For the quick pace action, the Badgers are going to rely on three of the WCHA’s top 12 scorers – Kyle Turris (6th - 10-18=28), Ben Street (T-7th - 12-14=26) and Blake Geoffrion (T-12th - 8-15=23).
Of that collection of players, junior Ben Street has remained constant throughout the season, scoring points in 20 of the Badgers’ 28 games this season. In the process, Street has career-highs with 12 goals and 26 points. His previous career-high in points came last season when he collected 17 points. Ironically, none of Street’s goals have come on the power play this season, where he’s had much success in year’s past.
No other NCAA Division I player has scored as many goals without the benefit of a power-play goal as Street has this season.
While the Badgers' psyche may be down, Wisconsin's upperclassmen know that the team is still playing the best hockey of the season. With the building of confidence, however, needs to come at least three points to keep pace in the race for the post season.
“We got a little bit of confidence after the last few on the road, and we had a pretty good couple of series here at home,” Street said about the upcoming road trip. “The guys are feeling good. We've got some tough road trips; it's never easy to go to Michigan Tech and play those guys. We've got to find a way to win, which we've been pretty good at lately, so we've just got to keep going.”
Records: Wisconsin Badgers (12-11-5, 8-9-3 WCHA) vs. Michigan Tech (10-12-4, 6-9-3 WCHA)
Dates/Times: Fri.-Sat, Feb. 8-9 at 6/4 p.m. CT
Location: MacInnes Student Ice Arena (4,200)
Live TV: None
Live Stats: michigantechhuskies.com
Blogging : Badger Nation Commentary Board
Radio: Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick/Mike Cerniglia)
Last Meeting: W, 4-2, Madison, Wis., 11/3/07
Series Records: Wisconsin leads 86-43-7
At MTU: UW leads 29-25-3