Preview: A Young Animal House

With virtually an entire roster turnover, No.15 Wisconsin hockey team was planning on relying on plenty of youth in 2010-11. After one team-building weekend and ready to home the home slate, the results show promise.

MADISON - It only made sense for the wealth of youth on Wisconsin's men's hockey team to lean on each other as they go through the sometimes rough adjustment from mid-level hockey to the college level.

But the 10 freshmen the Badgers have on their roster have not only become good buddies, but seemingly borrowed pages from the script of ‘Animal House.'

"We all live together and became close right away," freshman forward Mark Zengerle said. "We live in apartments by the football stadium and we're all within 100 feet of each other. It's fun and definitely good."

Specifics notwithstanding, the young group of pranksters is heavily involved in the direction that No.15 Wisconsin will venture this season. The Badgers lost seven seniors and four underclassmen from last year's national runner-up team, a group that took 74.3 percent of its goal scoring (127 of 171 goals), 72.2 percent of its assists (218 of 302 assists) and 72.9 percent of its total scoring (345 of 473 points).

That was the main reason that nine Badgers made their collegiate debuts last weekend in the Ice Breaker Tournament in St. Louis. Of the group, Zengerle added two assists and forward Michael Mersh collected his first goal.

"It was definitely a lot better pace and a lot better hockey than juniors," Zengerle said. "For a first weekend, I think we adapted pretty well."

When the Badgers (1-1-0) play a non-conference series against NCAA Division I independent Alabama-Huntsville (1-1-0) at the Kohl Center Friday-Sunday, UW coach Mike Eaves and his staff will still be looking to move players in and out of the lineup before conference play begins Oct. 22 and 23 in Denver.

"The rotation will continue through this weekend," Eaves said, "and then we'll probably take a look at what we're going to have going into the WCHA."

While spots will be up hotly contested on UW's fourth line, the play of Zengerle and Tyler Barnes has opened some eyes. Both freshmen have already been inserted on to the power play, a unit that scored two goals in each game over the weekend.

The penalty killing also earned a boost, going a perfect 6-for-6 against Holy Cross after giving up three deciding goals in the season-opening loss to Boston University.

"Obviously, it's going to take more time to get where you want to be," Zengerle said, "but it's a good start."

Now the big transition is to the 15,000-seat Kohl Center. Zengerle went to a pair of games last year and estimates that his biggest crowd he's played in front of was 2,000 people. Should any nerves bubble up, he can walk across the locker room and talk to one of UW's six seniors or down the hall and rely on other members of UW's new Delta Tau Chi House.

"The seniors have helped us along the way from day one," Zengerle said. "You come here and there's a winning tradition and it's a big-time hockey school.

"(The freshman are) all behind each other and pushing each other to do well. It may not be the same offense as last year, but we have a good base to let it grow."

Alabama-Huntsville (1-1-0) vs. No.15 Wisconsin (1-1-0)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 16 at 6 p.m. CT, Sunday, October 17 at 1 p.m. CT

Stadium – Kohl Center (15,237/200' x 97')

Television - Friday live on FSWisconsin (Paul Braun and Rob Andringa) and tape-delayed at 11 p.m. on the Wisconsin Channel. No live TV Sunday.

Radio - Badger Sports Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)

Series – Wisconsin leads 4-0-0 (UW leads 4-0-0 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 5-0, on Dec. 27, 2008 in Madison during the Badger Hockey Showdown


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