That Badger quartet played for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., before joining UW. Michigan State also counts four NTDP alums on its roster; Michigan has eight. In addition, Badger third-year coach Mike Eaves was the head coach at NTDP prior to taking the UW job.
"It's always fun to see the progression between all of us, see where we are at… in the past two years until now," Earl said.
Auffrey will not play this weekend while he continues to nurse a wrist injury but Earl, Dowell and Likens will likely play key roles in the weekend's events. Earl leads the Badgers and is tied for sixth nationally with 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) this season. Dowell is fourth at UW with 11 points and Likens boasts six points from his blue line position.
Michigan State's NTDP contingent consists of junior forward David Booth, junior defenseman Corey Potter, freshman forward Bryan Lerg and sophomore defenseman A.J. Thelen, who was the third overall pick in last year's NHL Draft (Minnesota Wild).
Michigan's NTDP cast includes the team's leading scorer in sophomore forward T.J. Hensick (6 goals, 10 assists), star goaltender Al Montoya, the sixth overall pick in last year's NHL Draft (New York Rangers), and senior captain forward Eric Nystrom.
Wolverines senior forward Jason Ryznar, sophomores defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Mike Brown and freshmen forwards Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik also played for NTDP.
"It's always exciting to compete with them because you grew up with the guys, you matured with those guys and we took the same steps to be where we are today," Earl said. "There's always a sense of reputation and having an advantage but I don't think there is any hostility. But it will be fun to see where all of us are at."
Dowell and Likens also teamed with Michigan's Montoya and Hunwick and Michigan State's Booth, Potter and goaltender Dominic Vicari to win a gold medal at last winter's World Junior Championships. Eaves served as that team's head coach.
Long travel, holiday changes schedule
Wisconsin left Alaska about 6:45 a.m. local time Sunday morning and did not arrive in Madison until about 10 p.m. Central. The long travel day prompted the team to change up its practice schedule, working out Monday but taking Tuesday off.
"We talked to quite a few teams around our league and quite a few of the teams take Tuesday off rather than the Monday, which makes sense," Eaves said Monday. "See, you travel all day Sunday. Today we'll skate, loosen up, take tomorrow off, let the body recover, catch up on some schoolwork and be fresh for Wednesday, Thursday, and play Friday, Saturday. So we'll try that route this year and see how it works for us."
Thursday, following a mid-day practice, the team traveled to captain Adam Burish's family cabin near Lake Wisconsin, where Burish's parents prepared a Thanksgiving meal.
"We're going to have to have a pretty lively skate on Friday morning to get some of that turkey out of our systems, but we'll work at it," Eaves said.
Returning to home holiday crowd
Michigan State and Michigan tend to bring plenty of fans to the Kohl Center stands when the Thanksgiving weekend College Hockey Showcase comes to Madison. This weekend will be no different. More than 11,000 fans are expected for Friday night's game against Michigan State and more than 13,000 are expected when No. 1 Michigan comes to take on No. 2 Wisconsin Saturday night.
"Because they are Big Ten rivals with our football team I think it brings the best out in fans as well," senior goaltender Bernd Bruckler said. "But for us really we just look at it as another game and we know that there is a rivalry and whatnot but we just have to prepare.
"Our fans have been great all year and I'm sure they'll come out again in helping us and be the seventh man on the ice."