In the Badgers' case, however, the first 10 seasons of the competition did not amount to much of a rivalry. They were utterly dominated, with Michigan and Michigan State posting a combined 17-2-1 record against UW in that span.
Last Thanksgiving weekend, the Badgers traveled to Ann Arbor and East Lansing a young team, 6-3-3 at the time, still trying to "forge itself into a good team," as head coach Mike Eaves often said. Wisconsin proceeded to shock the its neighbors to the east, topping Michigan 3-1 then beating Michigan State 2-1 in overtime, for its first ever Showcase sweep.
"You beat those teams, the morale, the guys in the locker room, everyone gets jazzed," junior captain Adam Burish said. "Everyone's jacked up….So then you feel real good about yourself."
The wins were part of a school-record 15-game unbeaten streak that lasted until Dec. 28. Wisconsin went on to finish the season 22-13-8 and reach the NCAA quarterfinals.
"I think it was a confidence builder," sophomore wing Robbie Earl said. "I think going into that weekend and coming off the streak that we were on and maintaining it even on the road kind of gave us a sense of confidence."
"That's how it will be this weekend too," Burish said. "If we have a good week and we play well it will just propel us to the rest of the WCHA season. That was big for us last year."
The matchup looms large again this season, as a Badger team with legitimate nation title hopes faces off with two teams that, year-in and year-out, have similar aspirations. For second-ranked Wisconsin (9-3-0), Friday's matchup with Michigan State (5-6-1) and Saturday's tussle with No. 1 Michigan (9-2-1) will be measuring sticks for what is still a very young Wisconsin team.
The games are not merely a barometer for the WCHA-leading Badgers, however. Every game during the season plays a role in the PairWise calculations that determine NCAA seeding in March, and games against high-caliber non-conference opponents are of particular importance.
"It's just like North Dakota coming to town right now," Burish said. "It's two top teams going at it and we want a sweep again this weekend."
The 1-2 matchup Saturday night is the weekend's marquee event but Wisconsin spent its week of practice focusing on the first game of the set: the Friday Showcase with Michigan State.
"We'll talk about Michigan after the State game," Earl said. "State is our first goal, our first task. We can't think ahead, under-prepare for State."
The Spartans come to Madison reeling a bit after being swept by Michigan last weekend. MSU had been riding a four-game unbeaten streak before the Wolverines strolled into East Lansing. The Spartans are currently tied for ninth in the CCHA but at this early juncture are just two points from being tied for fourth.
Michigan State has played well defensively for the most part this season but has struggled to put the puck in the net. The team's stars—senior forward Jim Slater (4 goals) and sophomore defenseman A.J. Thelen (7 assists, 0 goals)—have not matched their production from a year ago.
Junior forward Colton Fretter (6 goals, 6 assists), sophomore forward Drew Miller (5, 4) senior forward Ash Goldie (6, 2) have picked up the slack, but MSU's mere 2.83 goals per game have put its talented defense in a tough spot. Starting goaltender Dominic Vicari (4-4-1) boasts a .917 save percentage and has allowed just 2.36 goals per game. Backup Matt Migliaccio (1-2-0) is competent (.901, 2.59).
"We have to really focus on Michigan State first," senior goaltender Bernd Bruckler said. "We have to take care of one game at a time. Definitely exciting to play No. 1 on Saturday though."
Michigan and Wisconsin have each won four consecutive games to climb to No. 1 and No. 2 in the country. Also like the Badgers, the Wolverines combine one of the nation's top scoring teams with one of college hockey's best goaltenders in junior Al Montoya.
"I just think it's exciting for us to play in our building against the top team in the country right now as they are ranked," Bruckler said. "That's where we want to go. We want to be No. 1."
What: No. 2 Wisconsin (9-3-0 overall, 7-3-0 WCHA) versus Michigan State (5-6-1 overall, 3-5-0 CCHA), College Hockey Showcase
When: Friday, Nov. 26 at 7:07 p.m.
Broadcasts: Live TV on UPN, tape-delayed by Wisconsin Public Television. Live radio on WIBA-AM 1310 in Madison. The game can be viewed live on the Web at UWBadgers.com
Series notes: Wisconsin is 37-44-2 all-time versus Michigan State.