What: Wisconsin (0-2-0 WCHA, 3-3-0 overall) at Michigan Tech (0-1-1, 2-2-2)
When: Friday, Nov. 7 and Saturday, Nov. 8, 6:05 p.m. CDT
Site: MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, Michigan
Broadcasts: WIBA-AM (1310) live radio broadcast
Series notes: 47-14-4 overall, 26-23-2 at Houghton, 3-1-0 last year
Penalties; every sport has them and every coach hates when they are called on their players. Of course some penalties tend to irritate the coach more than others. In football, a 15-yard penalty is, of course, worse than a five-yard infraction. In hockey a five or ten minute penalty is much more costly than your average two-minute minor.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, his players seem to have fallen into a rut of taking bad penalties. It all started in the second game of the St. Cloud State series when sophomore Ryan MacMurchy was sent packing midway through the first period with a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind and an automatic game misconduct. The Badgers gave up a goal on the ensuing power play and lost the game 3-1.
Eaves and the coaching staff addressed the situation with MacMurchy and the whole team before the next series with Quinnipiac. The message must not have gotten through clearly to sophomore Adam Burish, who took the same exact penalty as MacMurchy had, early in the second period of Friday night's contest. The situation was addressed before Saturday night's game, but sure enough a major penalty struck again.
This time it was freshman Ryan Suter sitting in the box for five minutes after slashing at the head of a Bobcat player. Although these two penalties did not end up costing the Badgers, they have had almost two weeks now to fix the problem once and for all.
"They recognize that we dodged a bullet. If that would've been a different team (other than Quinnipiac) it could have cost us," Eaves said. "I think that we are bright enough that we are going to learn and move on."
The problem had better be taken care of because this weekend Wisconsin faces Michigan Tech, a team that is hot right now and will take advantage of mistakes and penalties. With the nation's leading scorers and seven power play goals in six games, committing penalties against the Huskies could prove deadly.
"I think (the penalty issue) has been addressed great," freshman Jeff Likens said. "We know we have to stay out of the (penalty) box, especially against a high scoring team like this."
The prolific offense of the Huskies is led by two players who each have 15 points in six games. Sophomore Chris Conner (11 goals, four assist) and junior Colin Murphy (eight, seven) lead the nation in points per game. Freshman Taggart Desmet has also contributed nine points, leading the nation's rookies in points per game.
"The one thing that they have got going is that they have a couple of young men that are real hot right now as far as goal scoring," Eaves said. "Their shooting percentages are off the charts and we have to be very much aware when they are on the ice."
When Likens was asked how he and his fellow defensemen would stop these goal scorers his answer was plain and simple: "Hit'em!"
"All we have to do is hit them and shut them down and they won't be able to do anything," Likens added.
This weekend's series could end up being a battle between two great offensive lines. The Badgers seem to have found one of their own in MacMurchy, Rene Bourque, and Andrew Joudrey. If they can keep their intensity up, their teammates will feed off of that energy and they will keep winning. The challenge was keeping the momentum from the Quinnipiac sweep going through the bye week and into this weekend.
"If we would have lost last series this would have been a long two weeks, but coming off of two wins, everyone is in good spirits and is working hard," senior forward and tri-captain Bourque said.
Wisconsin and Michigan Tech are two very evenly matched teams. If it comes down to a battle of desire it would be hard to argue against the Badgers. They know that this series is a big one. After being swept by St. Cloud State they have to start notching points in the WCHA standings or they will be stuck digging themselves out of a hole late in the season.