What: No. 6 Wisconsin (12-6-6 WCHA, 18-9-7 overall) at Alaska-Anchorage (7-16-3, 10-17-3)
When: Friday, Feb. 27 and Saturday, Feb. 28, 10:05 p.m. CST
Site: Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, Alaska
Broadcasts: live radio coverage both nights on 1310 WIBA (AM)
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 23-9-8 overall, 10-5-5 at Anchorage, first time these teams have met this season
The UW men's hockey team set off on their longest trek of the season on Wednesday. They left shortly before 3 p.m. and, after a layover in Minneapolis, were scheduled to arrive in Anchorage, Alaska for a weekend series with the Seawolves.
"I've never made a trip like this, it's going to be interesting," freshman forward Ross Carlson said. "We just have to go out there and work hard and hopefully everything goes our way."
Things have not gone the Badgers' way at Alaska in recent trips. They are 1-1-4 in their last six games at Anchorage, including two ties last year.
"It's three time zones. Even one hour [time difference] can throw you off, but when you go three hours that's a big change in your body cycle," head coach Mike Eaves said.
As part of the crew who traveled to Finland to play in the World Junior Championships, Jake Dowell did not believe that the jet lag would be as much of a factor.
"It's a long trip, but when you go overseas you lose half a day. It's nothing like that," Dowell said.
Nonetheless, this is an important weekend for the Badgers. With two points they will lock up home-ice advantage for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. They are ahead of St. Cloud State by just two points for third place, a position they must hold on to going into next weekend's series against Minnesota-Duluth.
"We haven't played well up in Alaska while I've been here," senior defenseman Dan Boeser said. "A lot of teams don't do well up there because it's such a long trip. It's just a combination of a lot of things."
To be successful at Anchorage, Wisconsin will have to do a number of things, but one of the most important will be the play of its special teams. The penalty kill was better last weekend against St. Cloud, but needs to be more consistent.
"The penalty killing got back on track but the problem there is consistency," Eaves said. "[On the power play] we had chances and it's those moments of truth that we have an opportunity to score that we're not getting it done."
The power play for the Badgers has been less than efficient. In their last six games they are a dismal 0-for-22 on the man advantage, a stat that must be improved upon not only to be successful this weekend, but in the postseason as well.
"Penalty kill and power play, in this league, are huge factors. If they aren't going well I don't think your team is going to win a lot of games. So we really need to buckle down on those two aspects," Boeser said.
Dowell should return to the Badger lineup this weekend after missing the last series due to a sprained ankle. He will resume his role as the center of the third line, between Robbie Earl and Ross Carlson.
"I felt real strong when I played with them against North Dakota and hopefully we can come back and pick it back up," Dowell said.
Although the Seawolves are in the middle of a six-game losing streak, they must not be overlooked this weekend. Anchorage is led by a group of sophomore forwards, Chris Fournier, Curtis Glencross, and Ales Parez, who each average almost one point per game.
"If we overlook them they're definitely going to take it to us. So we have to take this very seriously and come out of there with four points," Boeser said.
The position where Wisconsin clearly has the advantage is with junior goalie Bernd Bruckler. The "Awesome Austrian" leads the WCHA with a .924 save percentage and is allowing just 2.25 goals per game, a stat that has helped the Badgers become the top defensive team in the league.
If Wisconsin takes advantage of its opportunities and attacks the net with a plethora of shots they are sure to come out of this weekend with ever-important league points, setting up next weekend's series, which could end up deciding the WCHA championship.