Badgers seek revenge

UW men's hockey team remembers bitter taste of conference tournament defeat to Alaska-Anchorage

It was March 2004 — the opening round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. The setting: the Kohl Center. The matchup: the heavily favored Wisconsin men's hockey team versus lowly Alaska-Anchorage, holders of an 0-22 all-time record in the conference playoffs, in a best of three.

The result: a commanding 4-1 victory by the Seawolves in Game 3, propelling them to their first Final Five and leaving the Badgers scratching their heads.

"They embarrassed us at home, so we feel like we need to get back at them," Badger forward Jake Dowell said. "These are two games we need to win."

No. 4 Wisconsin (7-3-0 overall, 5-3-0 WCHA) will gets its first opportunity for revenge this weekend as it heads north for a road series with a capable Alaska-Anchorage squad.

It has been three hard weekends for the Badgers, involving three Top 10 teams and no respite. Now, it appears they will get some lighter competition in the form of the Seawolves, perennial basement dwellers of the WCHA. Appearances, however, can be deceiving.

"They play hard and they're a little hard to play against because of that factor," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "It's that old, standard line: When you play hard, you give yourself a chance to win."

Alaska-Anchorage (5-4-1, 3-3-0) is not intimidating on paper, but this team is quietly putting together what could turn out to be the best season in the history of its program. Already the Seawolves have achieved such notables as a win over Minnesota, a sweep of Minnesota-Duluth and their first ever appearance in the Top 15.

Even with these accomplishments, however, Alaska-Anchorage is still wracked with uncertainties. Can their goaltending combination of John DeCaro and rookie Nathan Lawson, neither of whom were on the team last year, consistently hold up against elite offenses, like they one they face this week? Can the defense be relied on, considering their top two players from last year, Lee Green and Mark Smith, have yet to tally a point?

And perhaps the most pressing issue, can the UAA offense keep up its respectable contribution of three goals per game without an impact player? Sophomore Justin Bourne and freshman Chris Tarkir currently lead the team with five goals apiece, the remainder of the scoring being distributed among ten other forwards.

This could become a problem for the Seawolves against red-hot UW goaltender Bernd Bruckler, WCHA Defensive Player of the Week after play against the potent North Dakota offense last weekend. This causes another problem for the Anchorage players, as, with their netminder providing so much security in net, the Badgers' steadily maturing defense has been able to take more chances and stifle the efforts of all but the most determined opponents.

If Wisconsin's defense can mimic its effort against the Fighting Sioux—where they didn't allow a goal for the first five and half periods—it will give the skillful Badger forwards ample opportunity to show off their offensive prowess and put the Seawolves out of the game early.

"We want to improve defensively and keep doing the things that we did well last weekend again," Bruckler said. "And obviously we want to get our offense going as well."

Whether this scenario comes to fruition, though, depends on the forwards themselves. Leading the charge will be the line of Ross Carlson, Dowell and Nick Licari, who have been making an impression as of late with their grit and ability to come up with big scores.

Backing them up, or possibly taking charge themselves, will be Robbie Earl, Joe Pavelski and Adam Burish. Earl has amassed 14 points, good for second in the conference, while the freshman Pavelski has been the Badgers' top power play threat with three goals.

"Our offense is playing pretty well right now," Dowell said. "We're getting back in the groove of scoring some goals."

Though few in the cardinal and white will deny that revenge is on their minds when they go to the tundra this weekend, Wisconsin has to be careful not to overlook its opponent. Alaska-Anchorage has proven to more than one conference heavyweight how dangerous they can be and, with the Badgers still searching for their first road win of the season, underestimation could be costly.

"They're the underdogs," Dowell said. "They have nothing to lose and everything to gain."

What: No. 4 Wisconsin (7-3-0 overall, 5-3-0 WCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (5-4-1, 3-3-0)
When: Friday, Nov. 19 at 10:07 p.m. Central and Saturday, Nov. 20 at 5:07 p.m.
Site: Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska
Broadcasts: Live radio Friday on WIBA-AM 1310 and Saturday on WTSO-AM 1070.
Series Notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 26-11-8.

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