UW Hopes to Ease Woes in St. Cloud

No.13 Wisconsin need points at St. Cloud State's National Hockey Center when it comes to gaining a bigger foot hold on home ice in the WCHA playoffs, but don't fare well in the Huskies' building.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. - Ask the members of the Wisconsin men's hockey team where their favorite places to play outside of the Kohl Center are, and more than a few will point out the National Hockey Center.

Road trips can be brutal in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and trips to face St. Cloud State have been especially fruitless for Wisconsin since 2008, as the Badgers are just 3-5 on the Huskies' home ice since 2008. UW has been outscored by seven goals in those eight games and outscored 20-8 in the losses.

Yet, the Badgers still enjoy the atmosphere inside those gray concrete walls.

"It's a fun rink to play in," junior defenseman Jake Gardiner said. "Between here, NoDak and there, those are probably the three best fan-wise. Overall, it's pretty cool up there."

"That's actually one of my favorite rinks to play in," junior forward Jordy Murray said. "Just the way it's built… the way it echoes, the tin roof or whatever. The student section is really loud, you can't even hear on the ice, it's a great place to play."

Yet the Badgers' last two trips resulted in splits, with the Friday games decisive Huskies victories and the Badgers coming back in game two to earn wins.

"Yeah, I don't know what it is, it's been kind of weird," Murray admitted. "I remember the last two times we were up there… we ended up losing the first one real bad then came back and played really good games in the second one."

Wisconsin (19-11-4, 11-10-3 WCHA) will need a more consistent effort in this trip if it hopes to end a four-game winless streak. The Badgers had won 12 of 13 entering a bye week, but proceeded to get swept at Nebraska-Omaha and earn just one point at home against Minnesota.

St. Cloud State (12-15-5, 8-12-4) might look on paper like a team Wisconsin should handle, given the Badgers' tendency this season to roll over teams below it in the standings. The Huskies were picked in the preseason to finish near the top of the WCHA, but aside from a six-game winning streak from December to January, they have struggled to find momentum. SCSU currently comes in on a 1-4-3 stretch.

Huskies head coach Bob Motzko was forced to remove senior co-captain Tony Mosey from the team in early January and defenseman Chris Hepp left the team for the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.

While not as drastic, UW head coach Mike Eaves made some changes to his own lineup, temporarily mixing up his defensive pairings and sliding some players between lines. Senior forward Patrick Johnson was moved to the fourth line to provide some veteran leadership and offensive skill, while sophomore Keegan Meuer took his spot on Sean Dolan's defensive-minded line.

"Just in terms of the energy [Meuer] brings," Eaves said of the move. "He knows in his head what to do, it's a matter of getting it done. Our trust has been built up with him."

The moves were made in hopes of freshening up a team that allowed a nation-best 2.00 goals per game before the bye week, but has since given up 4.00 goals per game in four games since.

And after playing in Saturday's 3-3 tie with Minnesota, senior goaltender Brett Bennett will be starting in net for Friday's game against St. Cloud State, supplanting Scott Gudmandson, who has made the majority of starts this season. However, Gudmandson struggled after the bye week in three consecutive losses.

"Every time, when you're kind of in a rut like we are right now, it's nice to switch things up," Murray said.

And with points on the line that could be the difference between playing at home or on the road in the WCHA playoffs, the changes need to work. Wisconsin is in fifth place, just one point ahead of Minnesota with 25 points, and two ahead of Colorado College. The top six teams get home ice for the postseason.

"You try not to think about how tight the race is when you're on the ice," Murray said. "Everyone's asking, the media, everyone knows, but we're all aware of it. We're aware that every game is huge for us from here on out."

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