Role Reversal; Wisconsin favored this weekend

After playing a sequence of national-rated teams and conference favorites, the Badger men's hockey team faces off with a struggling Minnesota State squad this weekend.

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What: Minnesota State Mavericks (3-7-2 overall, 2-5-1 WCHA) at No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (9-3-4, 4-2-2)

When: Friday, Dec. 12 and Saturday, Dec. 13, 7:05 p.m. CST

Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.

Broadcasts: Fox Sports Net live TV coverage, 1310 (AM) WIBA live radio broadcast, Wisconsin Public Television tape delayed television broadcast (10:30 p.m. Friday only)

Series notes: Wisconsin leads 7-6-1

 

Wisconsin has become accustomed to going into each series as underdogs. Up until a few weeks ago they were not receiving national attention, and even when they started getting credit they were going up against teams that were ranked higher than themselves. All of that changes when they host Minnesota State this weekend.

 

"I think there are some expectations, that we're expected to win because of the recent success we've had," coach Mike Eaves said. "But they are a group that has surprised me with their ability to respond to different opportunities."

 

This is another new opportunity for the Badgers. They continue to ride the nation's longest unbeaten streak, now at 12 games. Minnesota State, on the other hand, has had a rough start to their season and will be looking for something positive to turn their season around.

 

"We know they are a good, hard-working team and they are looking for something to get them started," freshman defenseman Ryan Suter said.

 

"They are a desperate team and they are going to play to get something going," Eaves said. "We have to be ready and make sure that doesn't happen at our expense."

 

The past four weekends, the Badgers have gone up against three ranked opponents and the defending national champions. They swept the College Hockey Showcase and took three points from Denver the past two weekends on the road. Now they return home with everyone expecting them to win, especially the fans, who will pack the Kohl Center to near-capacity.

 

"We have the best barn in the nation and the best student section in the nation too," sophomore Ryan MacMurchy said. "Playing on the road is one thing, but playing at home is great."

 

"It feels good. We're back at home for two series now so we can relax a little," sophomore Tom Gilbert said.

 

After going 20-11-10 and making the NCAA tournament last season, the Mavericks lost two of their top three scorers. Grant Stevenson, who had 63 points last year, opted to forgo his last two seasons and head to the NHL and third-leading scorer B.J. Abel graduated. The offense has felt the effects, scoring less than 2.5 goals per game and scoring just six times in 63 power play chances.

 

"They have the personality of their coach. They will work tremendously hard and we have to match that to have a chance," Eaves said.

 

"I think we are just going to come out playing as we always do," Gilbert said. "This 12-game streak has given us a lot of confidence."

 

Whether positive or negative, the Mavericks have played just one series in the past three weekends. Either they could come out Friday night rested and ready to go, or they could come out flat and ‘game-rusty' as their coach Troy Jutting was concerned about. The Badgers, on the other hand, have not had a break since the first weekend of November, and played an exhibition game on Tuesday.

 

"We are in great shape. It might be a little bit tougher," MacMurchy said. "They'll probably come out quick and full of energy, but once we get settled down and start playing our game we'll be fine."

 

MacMurchy has become a key ingredient to Wisconsin's offense. Not only does he lead the team in goals and total points, but has had a deciding goal in each of the last four weekends. He has had the game-winner in three of the Badgers' nine victories and is plus-14 on the year.

 

Look for MacMurchy and the Badgers to come out strong again this weekend. They are healthy and confident, while keeping in perspective the fact that every weekend is the most important weekend of the year. Going in as the favorite to win is something new and unusual for this team, but, as their coach said, they seem to thrive in new and unusual circumstances.


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