Badgers ready to drop the puck

Wisconsin welcomes Mercyhurst Friday and Saturday night in season-opening weekend

What: Mercyhurst Lakers (0-0 Atlantic Hockey, 0-0 overall) at No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0 WCHA, 0-0 overall)
When: Friday, Oct. 15 and Saturday, Oct. 16, 7:05 p.m. CST
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: live on UPN (Saturday night only), tape-delayed on Wisconsin Public Television (both nights), live radio coverage on 1310 AM WIBA (Friday) and 1070 AM WTSO (Saturday)
Series notes: Teams have never met

Last weekend saw the beginning of the 2004-05 NCAA men's hockey season. It also saw college's first major upset as unranked Northeastern toppled No. 1 Michigan 4-2. The loss dropped the Wolverines from the top spot to No. 3 in the polls and gave the nation its first look at the parity in NCAA hockey.

This weekend, the No. 9 Badgers will try to make sure recent history does not repeat itself as unranked Mercyhurst comes to Madison.

To the naked eye, Mercyhurst may look like an unknown program from somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, but the Badger staff and players are not taking this game lightly.

"If anything we should be scared because they're an unknown," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They're a very good team in their conference. We as coaches are scared to death of that, and our players are going to hear that message from us."

The Lakers are picked to win Atlantic Hockey after finishing second last season. They finished with a record of 20-14-2 last season and return 20 players this year.

"We've done a little bit of our own scouting, but we just have to put everything else aside that happened in the preseason," Eaves said. "We're all strong and we're looking good, now we just have to put it on the ice this weekend."

The biggest question mark coming into the season appears to be who will be a consistent performer in net for Mercyhurst. Mike Ella and Andy Franck split time last season and did so again last weekend in a 4-0 exhibition victory over Brock College.

The Badgers, on the other hand, know exactly what they will be getting from their senior goalie Bernd Bruckler. Bruckler completed one of the best season's ever by a Wisconsin goaltender. He gave up just 2.04 goals per game and stopped more than 92 percent of the shots he saw.

So how can the Badger netminder get any better this season?

"I just have to go out there and focus on one game at a time, and not worry about what's going on around me and just help the team out every day," Bruckler said.

He will have to focus extremely hard from the drop of the puck this weekend. Of the six defensemen that will play in front of him, three of them will be rookies, and rookies are bound to make mistakes.

"The guys were here all summer and we get along really well and we're very comfortable around each other," Bruckler said. "Now we just have to get out there in a game situation."

This weekend will be a growing weekend for the team. Fans will be seeing four all new lines from last season so the players will be working toward a greater chemistry with their linemates all weekend.

"You want to feel comfortable with who you are playing with," junior forward Nick Licari said. "As long as you play hard I think it works out in the end but it's definitely important to have some chemistry on your line."

"There's definitely some chemistry brewing. [Center Jake Dowell] and [forward Robbie Earl] I think have always had some chemistry together, and [defensemen Davis Drewiske and Tom Gilbert] are starting to develop some there," junior forward Ryan MacMurchy said. "But it's early, so you can't expect too much."

The Badgers will be without MacMurchy, their leading returning scorer, in Friday night's contest as he serves a one-game suspension. The suspension is a result of an off-ice altercation in early September. It will be just the second time in his Badger career that he will be missing from the UW lineup.

Wisconsin needs to get off on the right foot this weekend. With the NCAA emphasizing tighter penalty-calling this season, it will be interesting to see how the teams balance trying to play hard but also trying to avoid the whistle, as keeping players on the ice together is the only way to build chemistry.

The point is, Mercyhurst is a team that Wisconsin should beat, it will just be a matter of the young team growing early and often and executing in key moments of the game.

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