When: Saturday, Jan. 17 and Sunday, Jan. 18, 7:05 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: UPN-14 live TV coverage, WIBA-AM (1310) live radio broadcast, Wisconsin Public Television tape delayed 10:30 p.m.
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 37-17-6
Wisconsin's reign atop the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings has already proven short lived. In fact, the Badgers could find themselves in fourth place when the weekend is over, and it has nothing to do with the outcome of either of their games this weekend.
The next three teams in the WCHA behind Wisconsin—North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota-Duluth—all play conference series this weekend, whereas the Badgers face non-conference foe Notre Dame. The Sioux, Huskies and Bulldogs all won Friday evening, re-shuffling the league leaderboard. After its 8-4 win at Michigan Tech, North Dakota leads the WCHA with 22 points, and still has played three fewer conference games than the Badgers, four fewer than St. Cloud and two fewer than Minnesota-Duluth. St. Cloud State, who led the conference from essentially the opening whistle before being unseated last week, moved into a second-place tie with Wisconsin at 21 points following a 4-1 win at Alaska-Anchorage. Duluth, meanwhile, held off visiting Colorado College, 4-3, and remains just two points behind the Sioux.
If Duluth sweeps Colorado College and St. Cloud manages at least a tie Saturday night, the Badgers will have fallen swiftly from first to fourth, but will be no more than three points out of first place. Nonetheless, this series is crucial in preparing the Badgers for the rigorous schedule that awaits.
The players would be the first to admit that they were not all together during last weekend's series with Michigan Tech. Coach Mike Eaves described play as dysfunctional as the team had its full roster for the first time in nearly a month after three freshmen and Eaves left for the World Junior Championship in Finland. The task this weekend then, will be not only to win, but to get the whole team playing together.
"We need our players to reconnect," Eaves said. "We played disconnected as a team. I, as a coach, need to reconnect with the players."
Wisconsin goes up against the Fighting Irish, who entered the weekend in third place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the same conference that holds Ferris State, who beat the Badgers in the Badger Showdown championship game. Like Ferris State, Notre Dame boasts a high-quality goaltender.
Freshman David Brown is allowing just 2.36 goals per game and has posted four shutouts this season. This weekend could come down to which goalie can frustrate his opponent more than the other as Bernd Bruckler continues to perform well between the pipes for Wisconsin.
"(Brown) is a big reason that they are having the success that they are. It's all revolved around the goaltenders," Eaves said. "So we're going to have to make sure that we get some quality shots and get some people in front of him so he has a hard time seeing the puck."
With freshman Jake Dowell returning to the lineup last weekend and the Badgers' top line becoming frustrated with its lack of production, the coaching staff mixed up the lineup. Dowell centered a line between Rene Bourque and Ryan MacMurchy while Andrew Joudrey centered an all-freshman line with Robbie Earl and Ross Carlson. While the team as a whole was less than impressive last weekend, it will be interesting to see who lines up with whom this time around.
Carlson continued his strong start last weekend. Since joining the team he has accumulated five points in four games including a goal and a helper last series. Teams are seeing him for the first time so look for him to continue to be a reliable offensive threat.
"I was really surprised that he was having the success that he did right away. I think that is a tribute to his rehab and his work ethic in the rehab," Eaves said. "We had brought him in here as a guy that we thought could help us offensively and he jumped right in the fire and did, but to do it as quickly as he has, that was a pleasant surprise."
Wisconsin needs to get back on the winning track this weekend. After last week's loss the players looked as disappointed as they were at the beginning of the season. The Badgers face a grueling stretch run that includes series at Colorado College and Minnesota the next two weeks followed by a homestand with No. 1 North Dakota. Wisconsin needs to regain not only its winning ways, but its winning attitude if it hopes to make a run at the MacNaughton Cup.
"Everybody stumbles. We're just going to go back to work and get this thing going again," Eaves said.