When: Friday, March 26
Site: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y.
Broadcasts: live television coverage on UPN-14 in Madison, live radio coverage 1310 WIBA (AM)
Series notes: Wisconsin leads 8-0-0, the two teams last met in 1969
Who is Ohio State and where did they come from? Sure, the Buckeyes are perennial powerhouses in college football, but they have a hockey team too? Obviously the Badgers knew that Ohio State has a hockey team, and a good one at that, but when the pairing was announced on Sunday, they did not know too much more about their future opponent.
By Tuesday they had a chance to look at some video, but were still trying to learn more.
"We watched a little bit of game tape but we don't really know much about them," senior forward Rene Bourque said. "I think they're kind of a similar team as us. They're a hard-working team."
Wisconsin used a school-record-setting unbeaten streak through the middle part of the season to gain national attention, but then stumbled to the finish line in the last few weeks, culminating with a loss to Alaska-Anchorage in the opening series of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
"We've had a couple weeks off, but hopefully we have that puck magic, that offensive flair back," head coach Mike Eaves said.
Ohio State finished the regular season with a 21-15-0 record overall and 16-12-0 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, good enough for a fourth place finish. But probably the best part of their season came in the past two weeks.
The Buckeyes took out Bowling Green to advance to the CCHA's Super Six, the league's equivalent to the WCHA's Final Five. From there they took out Notre Dame, Miami, and Michigan in order. All three of those teams are joining Ohio State in the NCAA tournament, and the victories gave the Buckeyes the Super Six Championship and an automatic bid into the tournament.
"They've got balanced scoring and big defense and they work very hard," Eaves said.
One of the biggest questions for the Badgers will be experience. Only Dan Boeser and Bourque have previous NCAA tournament experience; however, many of the players have other postseason or tournament experience.
Ohio State, on the other hand, made its most recent tournament appearance just last year. While this is just their fourth appearance overall, the Buckeye roster boasts 17 players with NCAA tournament experience.
The Buckeyes have five players who compiled 30 points or more. Senior forward Paul Caponigri led the way with 39, the only player to average more than one point per game. He and fellow senior Dave Steckel each had 17 goals to lead the team and defenseman Doug Andress tallied 27 helpers.
Bourque is the only Badger with more than 30 points with 15 goals and 20 assists.
Not only do the Buckeyes have tournament experience, but they have a veteran roster. Their top four scorers are all seniors, whereas two of the top four scorers for Wisconsin are freshman, and a third, Ryan MacMurchy, is a sophomore.
MacMurchy, not often considered one of the superstars on the Badger roster, may have more of an effect on the Badgers' success than many people realize. Wisconsin is 10-0-2 this season when "Mac" scores a goal.
"I don't know if it's a coincidence or what it is, but hopefully I get (a goal) this weekend," MacMurchy said.
One area that the Badgers have a distinct advantage is goaltending. Junior Bernd Bruckler earned first-team All-WCHA honors for his consistent play between the pipes for the Badgers this season. He gives his team a chance to win night in and night out and could prove to be a difference-maker in this contest.
The Buckeyes have been splitting time between senior Mike Betz and sophomore Dave Caruso. Betz has played in more games the Caruso, but Caruso had the hot hand last weekend at the Super Six. Either way, with the hot-and-cold spurts, it will be up to head coach John Markell to make the right decision and get the hot glove in at the right time this weekend.
Whether or not the Badgers advance to the next round will depend on which team is allowed to dictate the style of play. Perhaps not knowing a great deal about their opponent will play into the Badgers hands, allowing them to play their game, something that has proved successful this season.
"We just have to bring our A-game and play the way we play," MacMurchy said. "We've beaten some good teams this year and that's just what we've got to do."