What: No. 8 St. Cloud State (12-7-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association, 18-9-3 overall) at No. 6 Wisconsin (11-6-5, 17-9-6)
When: Friday, Feb. 20 and Saturday, Feb. 21, 7:05 p.m. CST
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Both nights live on Fox Sports Net, Friday tape-delayed at 10:30 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Television, live radio coverage both nights on 1310 WIBA (AM)
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 28-20-5 overall, 19-10-2 in Madison, trails 0-2-0 this year
When the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Preseason Poll was released before this season, it listed Wisconsin at No. 7 and St. Cloud State right behind them in the eighth spot. The league's coaches, whose votes determine the preseason rank, must have missed something.
With three weeks left in the regular season, the Badgers and the Huskies are ranked sixth and eighth respectively—but not in the WCHA, in the country. Now tied for third place in the conference, the two surprising teams will take on each other this weekend at the Kohl Center.
"We're pretty confident so we're just looking to get the ball rolling again and start a little winning streak," senior forward and tri-captain Rene Bourque said.
The Badgers, coming off of a bye week, are hoping that the momentum that they created after their sweep of North Dakota will help carry them this weekend. But St. Cloud has picked up a little momentum as well, winning its last four games.
"We had some guys banged up and the rest came at a good time. Hopefully we can work hard and get a couple wins this weekend," Bourque said.
These two teams met in the second week of the season at St. Cloud, where the young Badgers were swept. But those games were four months ago.
"We were young then and hadn't had a lot of games under our belt so it's going to be a lot different. But they are doing well too so it's going to be interesting," sophomore forward A.J. Degenhardt said.
The two teams are evenly matched across the board. The Badgers are scoring 3.27 goals per game compared to the Huskies 3.23. St. Cloud is giving up 2.82 goals per game, fairly close Wisconsin's 2.45. So what will give head coach Mike Eaves and his Badgers the advantage this weekend?
"Part of the equation as to who will be successful, is whose goalie makes the big save at the big time," Eaves said. "There are a lot of similarities and it's going to come down to execution."
If that is the case, then the Badgers have to feel good going into the weekend. Junior Bernd Bruckler has been the difference maker all year.
On the other side of the coin, the Huskies' goaltending has been good, but junior Adam Coole, who has seen the most time in net, likely will not play this weekend.
"I think the key for both of these teams has been hard work," Degenhardt said. "I think that is what they are going to bring to the ice this weekend is that they play really hard and so do we."
Both teams will be missing players this weekend. The Huskies will be without juniors defenseman Matt Gens and forward Mike Doyle due to injuries. Junior forward Peter Szabo must sit out Friday night's game after being disqualified last weekend for a spearing penalty. Coole told the St. Cloud Times that he will certainly miss Friday's game due to his grandmother's funeral and he does not expect to make the trip to Madison for Saturday's contest.
Freshman Jake Dowell will most likely be out for Wisconsin this weekend as a result of a leg injury suffered in practice last week.
No doubt it will be a battle on the ice at the Kohl Center this weekend, but the fact that the games are at home for Wisconsin may end up being a huge factor.
"It's always an advantage to play at home, so hopefully we can get a goal early or throw some big hits—it will be tough for the other team," Degenhardt said.
This game has major implications as far as the WCHA standings and seeding for the WCHA playoffs are concerned. With so much riding on the line, both teams will be leaving everything on the ice this weekend in an effort to move up the conference leaderboard.