Let the games begin

The Badger men's hockey team faces a daunting stretch run

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What: No. 6 Wisconsin (14-6-6 overall, 8-3-5 WCHA) at No. 14 Colorado College (11-8-3, 4-8-2)

When: Friday Jan. 23 at 8:35 p.m. CST and Saturday Jan. 24 at 8:05 p.m. CST

Site: Colorado Springs World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Broadcasts: Tape-delayed on Wisconsin Public Television at 10:35 p.m. (Friday only), WIBA-AM (1310) live radio coverage (both nights)

Series Notes: Wisconsin leads 99-48-7, 43-22-3 at Colorado College, 0-0-2 this season


For the Wisconsin Badgers, this weekend's series at Colorado College is the first step in the most crucial part of the season. Over the next seven weeks they will take on five nationally ranked conference opponents in the race for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's MacNaughton Cup and a possible NCAA tournament bid.


Three points separate North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Wisconsin in the WCHA standings. Minnesota, Denver, and Colorado College join those teams in the top 15 spots of the latest national rankings, and Alaska-Anchorage is also receiving votes. And all eight of those teams are listed in the top 17 in the latest PairWise rankings.


With eight of the WCHA's ten teams still in contention for tournament bids, conference fans are going to be seeing some great hockey over the next seven weeks, Wisconsin fans included. The Badgers head to Colorado Springs in what may be the least of their troubles over the next six weeks. From there they head to No. 5 Minnesota before home series with No. 1 North Dakota and No. 7 St. Cloud State. Then, if that were not enough, they go on the road to Alaska-Anchorage and then come back home for two games with No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth.


Essentially, the MacNaughton Cup is up for grabs. North Dakota is the favorite at this point, and five teams are still in the race, although Minnesota will need at least one victory against North Dakota this weekend to stay in the hunt. The Badgers are right in the thick of things, only three points back, but will need to start scoring some goals and turn things around down the home stretch.


"We just have to get back to the basics," freshman defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We have to get back to working hard and we have to get that winner's attitude back."


Wisconsin is 2-2-2 since its school-record breaking 16-game unbeaten streak was snapped by Ferris State. It is not that the team is not playing hard. Rather, they are just not getting the bounces that they had been getting earlier this season. If that is the case, this weekend could be a low-scoring, first team to two goals wins series because the Tigers have been in an even worse scoring slump.


"You have to find that blend of recognizing what you are going through and the best way to handle it," Eaves said. "I thought we played pretty hard (last weekend). We just have to score a couple more goals."


Colorado College has scored two goals or more in just two of its last eight games, leaving them with an astonishing 1-7-0 conference record since the last time these two teams met.


One major factor in the latest scoring drought for Wisconsin has been the scoring absence of sophomore Ryan MacMurchy. The team's leader in goal-scoring, the forward has been shut out in his last seven games. Fellow sophomore Nick Licari is scoreless in his last 11, and Andrew Joudrey, once a linemate with MacMurchy on what was considered the Badgers scoring line, has also gone seven games without a goal.


"(MacMurchy) wants to score. When he doesn't do that he feels that he's letting himself down and letting his teammates down and it hurts him," Eaves said.


Wisconsin could get by without scoring many goals this weekend, but they do not want to take that chance. They will need to get things rolling again if they want to compete with the teams in their upcoming schedule.


Things may seem a little bit shaky right now, but when asked whether he thought that this team was capable of challenging for the WCHA title and possibly even a national championship, Suter responded, "We have a great team here with a lot of guys who have won things before. And if we get everyone together we are going to do pretty good."

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