After having to replace four 50-point scorers from last season's Frozen Four squad, the Badgers were essentially bringing in a whole new team this season. Predictably, infused with youth, there were struggles early. UW suffered a six-game winless streak throughout November as the new talent struggled to mesh and meet the rigors of WCHA play.
If this were an excellent Disney sports movie, about this time in the plot there would have been a fiery speech about what it means to wear the Wisconsin sweater.
While that cannot be attested to, something did click for the Badgers as they have ripped off a seven game winning streak heading up to Minnesota-Duluth this weekend. Goals have come in abundance (3.71 per game), while the defense and goaltending have clamped down with two shutouts and just once letting an opponent net more than two goals. It is the first time a Wisconsin team has won seven in a row since the 2005-06 National Championship season.
The caveat? The four opponents taken to the cleaners during this streak have a winning percentage of .361.
With Duluth at 14-4-3 and tied for second in the WCHA, UW will face a much stiffer challenge this series.
"With all the young guys we have, we knew it was going to be like a whole new team early in the season," UW forward Jordy Murray said. "But we have been improving with each game and I think our confidence is at its highest right now. This will be a good test for us."
Anyone who has followed head coach Mike Eaves teams at Wisconsin can probably predict the answers his players give as to the reason for the rapid improvement.
"We have just been outworking teams," UW defenseman Craig Johnson said. "Doing the little things, like working in corners, taking away time and space on defense. We have had a lot more five on five goals during [this streak] and five on five goals are always about how hard you work."
Coming of Canisius last weekend in a half-hearted Kohl Center with the students still on break, Wisconsin will be walking into a completely different atmosphere Friday. The Bulldogs opened up a new rink — the Amsoil Arena — for one game against North Dakota, but the Badgers will be the first team to compete for a series in the new barn.
UW forward Podge Turnbull, a native of Hayward Wis. which is less than an hour away from Duluth, said he had several friends at the Duluth-North Dakota game last weekend who can attest to the playoff-like atmosphere in the new building.
It will be another challenge for the still-young Badger team to learn quickly and overcome.
"Heck, I'm excited to play in there. I have about 50 people coming to the game," Turnbull said. "Great atmospheres can make for some great hockey."
No.9 Wisconsin (14-7-3, 6-6-2 WCHA) vs. No.5 Minnesota Duluth (14-4-3, 9-3-2 WCHA)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, January 14-15 at 7 p.m. CT
Stadium –AMSOIL Arena (6,732) - 200' x 85'
Television - None.
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick, Mike Cerniglia)
Series – UW leads 87-59-13 (36-34-8 in Duluth)
Last Meeting -Then-No. 1 Minnesota Duluth completed a two-game sweep at the Kohl Center on Nov. 20 with a 3-2 overtime victory after posting a 6-5 overtime win the night before.
The Badgers have dropped three straight in the series and four of the last five
UW was swept in back-to-back overtime games at the Kohl Center on Nov. 19-20 in the last meetings, but have gone 8-1-1 since that weekend
UW is 11-10-5 against Minnesota Duluth under Head Coach Mike Eaves, including 5-4-3 in Duluth