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After falling to No.2 Minnesota, 3-2, at the Kohl Center Friday night, No.18 Wisconsin bounced back with a 3-2 win in front of approximately 52,051 fans at Chicago's Soldier Field Sunday in the Hockey City Classic.
What's the Impact
Wisconsin's two points moved them into sixth place in the 12-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association, a critical spot considering the top six teams host the first round of the league playoffs the second weekend of March. UW will have its eyes fixed on the Denver-North Dakota series this weekend, as DU sits two points behind the Badgers and UND sits one point ahead.
Who was the Weekend MVP Sophomore goalie Joel Rumpel. Rumpel was one of the few bright spots in Friday's game in stopping 40 shots, including 19 saves in the first period to keep UW in the game. He earned the game puck on Sunday after stopping 36 shots (15 in the first period), and was much better than Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox Sunday (16 saves). His save on a shot from Minnesota's Nate Condon as time ran out to seal the win. The only flub he made all weekend was forgetting his game glove in Madison, forcing a member of UW's Athletic Communication staff to make a Sunday morning delivery.
Three Areas of Excitement
Penalty Kill: The penalty kill was the issue Friday, as the three goals the Badgers gave up all came with the Gophers on the man advantage. Those goals dropped UW to 10th in the league on the penalty kill (killing off 79 percent of team's power plays). Wisconsin took five penalties for 10 minutes on Friday, a fact that irritated head coach Mike Eaves and others. UW was much better Sunday by taking only four penalties and shutting down Minnesota's power play on both man advantages.
Wisconsin's second line: Wisconsin's line of freshman win Nic Kerdiles, junior center Mark Zengele and junior wing Tyler Barnes accounted for both goals and four of the team's six points on Friday. The line added an assist on the team's second goal Sunday.
Goaltending: As stated above, Rumpel was the star of the weekend. Rumpel is 7-7-4 this year, allowing fewer than two goals per game and has a save percentage above .930.
Three Areas of Concern
Power Play: After going 0-for-3 on the power play Sunday and 0-for-4 on the man advantage on the weekend, Wisconsin is 9-for-90 (10 percent) on the power play this season. That ranks dead last in the country (59 teams). UW has scored a power play in only two games since December 14.
Fluke?: Wisconsin skated better on Sunday because it was able to adapt to the conditions better than Minnesota. The ice conditions were less than ideal, forcing teams to play simpler as pucks bounced and slushy 32-degrees conditions slowed passes. UW plays simpler and lacks scoring punch, so the conditions affected Minnesota more. Hard to say what would happen if this game was at the Kohl Center, but UW needs to play better against better teams.
Mersch: For a team that ranks near the bottom in offense, the fact that junior forward Michael Mersch has gone five games without a goal is slightly disconcerting. Mersch – an Illinois native – did have an assist on Sunday, but UW needs his offense down the stretch.
"We're in the dog days of the second half of the WCHA and to have an event like this becomes an emotional energizer," Eaves said. "It's not just another game in the second half of the season. We got to do something really fun and it gives us energy."
Wisconsin plays its final nonconference and home series of the season when it plays Penn State, playing as an independent this season before forming the Big Ten hockey conference with UW, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State next season.
The series will be played Sunday and Monday due to the Kohl Center hosting the WIAA state wrestling tournament.
The Nittany Lions (12-13-0) have won seven straight, but all those wins have come at home and four of those wins have been victories in exhibitions.
Gallery from Badger Nation's Matt Fleming