What: No. 1 North Dakota (13-2-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association, 19-3-3 overall) at No. 9 Wisconsin (9-6-5, 15-9-6)
When: Friday, Feb. 6 and Saturday, Feb. 7, 7:05 p.m. CST
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Friday - live television coverage on Fox Sports Net and tape-delayed at 10:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television; Saturday - live television coverage and tape-delayed coverage on UPN-14; live radio coverage both nights on 1310 WIBA (AM)
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 70-52-6 overall, 36-20-3 in Madison
One of UW's biggest sporting events of the year will take place at the Kohl Center this weekend as the men's hockey team tries to take down the nation's top-ranked team. WCHA-leading North Dakota has sat atop the national rankings for 13 straight weeks and will try to make the Badgers their latest victim.
It is a big weekend for both teams as far as the WCHA standings are concerned. The Sioux currently have a three-point lead over Minnesota-Duluth and will look to keep, or possibly add to that lead this weekend.
The Badgers are in a three-way tie for third place with St. Cloud State and Minnesota. That may seem fine, but the difference between third and fifth going into the WCHA playoffs could make a big difference.
"These are all important games and we have to come ready to play," coach Mike Eaves said. "We're gearing up for the stretch run in order to help prepare us for the playoffs."
The key for Wisconsin is scoring. The Badgers know that they will most likely be outshot by North Dakota's high-powered offense so they need to take advantage of every opportunity they get. This will not be an easy task as the Sioux boast the best defense in the league.
Wisconsin's forwards have had a tough time scoring goals the past few weekends as it is. Neither sophomore Ryan MacMurchy nor freshman Andrew Joudrey, who were once on the top scoring line for Wisconsin, have notched a goal in the past 11 games. Freshman Jake Dowell has not scored since returning from the World Junior Championships and sophomore Nick Licari is in a 15-game drought.
"I try to focus on whether or not I'm playing well and if we're winning, that's the main thing," Joudrey said. "We haven't been winning and that's probably because a couple of us haven't been scoring, but I think if we keep working hard the puck's going to start going in."
All of the Sioux' losses have been 2-1 margins. Wisconsin junior goalie Bernd Bruckler, whom Minnesota coach Don Lucia called a WCHA MVP candidate last weekend, may be capable of holding North Dakota to one goal. But North Dakota's tandem of netminders is not going to go easy on the Badgers.
"We feel that (good team defense) is one of our strengths," Eaves said. "Our goaltending and team defense is part of our formula this year and we're going to have to rely on that again."
Penalties continue to plague the Badgers. They gave up three more power play goals last weekend in Minnesota. Against high caliber offenses like North Dakota and Minnesota, giving up an abundance of power plays is tantamount to giving the game away. The penalty kill can fight off a couple of penalties, but the more chances that a team gets to set up with the man-advantage, the greater their chances are of scoring on those opportunities.
"I think our penalty kill, system-wise, is doing well," Joudrey said. "The most important thing is our discipline. We have to find the balance between hard and smart and keep our emotions in control. When you play against the best teams you have to be disciplined."
A lot of things need to happen for Wisconsin to earn league points this weekend. The Badgers need to slow down North Dakota's exceptional offensive players, including junior Brandon Bochenski and sophomore Zach Parise. They need to take advantage of their opportunities and get out to an early lead. And they need to match the energy that the Sioux bring with them into every game.
"We have to match their hard (work), that's the number one thing," MacMurchy said. "If we can match their hard like we know we can, we think that with our systems we'll be able to beat them."