What: No. 11 Wisconsin Badgers (8-3-3 overall, 3-2-3 WCHA) at Denver Pioneers (9-4-1, 3-4-1)
When: Friday, Dec. 5, 8:35 CST and Saturday, Dec. 6, 8:05 p.m. CST
Site: Magness Arena, Denver, Colorado
Broadcasts: WIBA-AM (1310) live radio broadcast
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 64-42-7
The season is still young for the Wisconsin Badgers, but they have already accomplished some goals that they set at the beginning of the year. Riding the nation's longest unbeaten streak with a record of 7-0-3 in their last ten games, they have worked their way into the top 15 in the national polls.
Making their debut in the 11th spot, Wisconsin heads on the road again to take on the eighth ranked Denver Pioneers. While happy about breaking through onto the national scene, the Badgers know that there is still work to be done and goals to be accomplished.
"The next step is just going on up," freshman Robbie Earl said. "This is not good enough for us and we have to keep moving up the ladder."
"Well our goal was to get our team ranked," coach Mike Eaves said. "So we're pleased to see that, but we recognize what really matters is what happens at the end of the year and we know that we can play better, so we'll move forward to our next opportunity."
The next opportunity is against a Denver team that stands two points behind Wisconsin in the WCHA standings. Much like the Badgers, they have a talented veteran backstop who gives them a chance to win every game. Senior goalie Adam Berkhoel is 8-3 this year and has already notched three shutouts.
"Bernd is obviously a great goalie and he always gives us a chance to win," freshman Mark Heatley said. "And [Berkhoel] has been pretty solid and we are going to have to finish our chances if we want to win."
Heatley may be the biggest surprise of this team. Even he did not know where he was going to be skating earlier this year, but he seems to have picked the right place for both himself and the Badgers. As a walk-on, nobody knew exactly how much he would play, but through hard work he has proven himself and has become a regular in the Wisconsin lineup.
"It is pretty rewarding to see that my work is paying off. I worked hard all summer and didn't really know where I would end up," Heatley said. "I'm just happy to be playing hockey with a great group of guys."
Heatley has played in 10 of Wisconsin's 14 games and has tallied two goals and one assist. The hard work of him and the rest of the Badgers' fourth line has paid off and the fact that scoring contributions are coming from each and every Badger is only positive.
"You work hard, you get confidence, you want to go back and work hard again," Eaves said. "So we have this virtuous circle going and it's perpetuating something very positive."
Opposite from Eaves, on Denver's bench, will be a fellow former Wisconsin hockey player. Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky played with Eaves in the mid-70s and they carried the team to a national championship in 1977. Gwozdecky got the better of Eaves and the Badgers all four times last year and the Pioneers have beaten Wisconsin eight straight times.
"George has done a heck of a job at the college level and he has a good team," Eaves said. "We're going to go head-to-head with two good teams that are playing well at this time and I think people in college hockey will be watching that series closely."
"They are definitely one of our rivals and we definitely want to beat them pretty bad," senior tri-captain Andy Wozniewski said. "It's going to be a team effort. Our defense and goaltending have been really strong lately but we have to keep scoring goals."
The Badgers success continues, but for Eaves he will not be satisfied until he sees the same type of play during the second half of the season. He has said all along that the second half is what separates the good teams from the great teams, and that success is about standing the test of time. December is the home stretch of the first half of the season and what the Badgers do going into the second half could dictate how the year turns out for them.
"We have to keep working toward the top ten," Wozniewski said. "Getting in the national rankings was real big but now that we're in there we have to take that another step further."
"If we finish [the first half] strong then we have something to build off of going into the second half," Earl said.
This weekend's series with Denver is another big weekend. It is another chance to move up in the rankings and it is another chance to gain important WCHA points. The Badgers control their destiny and if they continue to improve and play hard like they have been, more success is on the way.