What: Michigan Tech (3-11-4 overall,1-7-2 WCHA) at No. 3 Wisconsin (13-4-5, 7-2-5)
When: Friday Jan. 9 and Saturday Jan. 10, 7:05 p.m. CST
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Friday, live on UPN-14, tape-delayed on WPT at 10:30 a.m., Saturday, live on Fox Sports Net, Both Nights: live radio broadcast 1310(AM) WIBA
Series Notes: Badgers lead 78-39-6 overall, 47-14-4 at Madison, and 2-0-0 this season
This weekend marks the return of three Badgers and their head coach to the ice. Coach Mike Eaves and freshmen Ryan Suter, Jeff Likens, and Jake Dowell have been absent from games and practices over the past three weeks due to their participation in the World Junior Championships in Finland.
Earlier this week, the four helped lead the United States team earn its first ever gold medal in the event, which took place Dec. 26-Jan. 5. The quartet returned to Madison late Tuesday night and the players were greeted by questions as to whether they would be ready to play for Wisconsin this weekend. But all of them were out on the ice for a full practice on Wednesday and will play against Michigan Tech this weekend.
While they were away, the Badgers reached a milestone, setting a school record for the longest unbeaten streak (15 games), before losing the next game. Nonetheless, Wisconsin still has lost just once in its last 18 games, and continues to ride a 12-game unbeaten streak in Western Collegiate Hockey Association games.
"Yeah, I was pretty satisfied overall, through that whole experience. To be quite honest with you I knew in my own heart that after we got the school record against Union that my biggest challenge was to prepare them to play the championship," associate head coach Troy Ward said of his experience as head coach while Eaves was away. "I was a little disappointed in myself and my ability to get that team ready to play in that championship game. But then at the same time you hopefully learn some lessons and certainly after Friday night's game we played O.K. at times."
Michigan Tech is looking for anything to turn their season around. But this weekend may not be the time to do it. They have lost three straight games and nine of their last 12 dating back to their last series with the Badgers in which Wisconsin earned a sweep, 9-4 and 5-2.
Forwards Colin Murphy and Chris Conner lead the team with 24 and 23 points respectively. Goalies Cam Ellsworth and Bryce Luker have split time in net with neither averaging less than four goals allowed per game.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is locked in first place with St. Cloud State, and has a golden opportunity to assert itself in the WCHA while the Huskies have a weekend away from the rink.
The Badgers took three points from Minnesota State last weekend. Bernd Bruckler resumed play in the net, making 29 saves each night, but the surprise of the weekend was the play of newcomer Ross Carlson.
Carlson was recruited by Wisconsin to play this season, but spent his first semester recuperating from an injury and joined the Badgers last weekend. He earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors after tallying a goal and two assists in his first weekend of play.
The forward will continue to see ice-time this weekend on a line with fellow freshmen Robbie Earl and Dowell. If the first series is any indication, fans should expect a plethora of goals and another solid weekend of Badger hockey likely culminating in four league points and a strong grasp on first place by Saturday night.