Last weekend at St. Cloud, the Badgers claimed three points largely on the back of their defense. Junior goalie Brian Elliott had to face 37 shots Friday night, but UW came away with a tie because of his career-high 35 saves. Saturday night, the Badgers allowed just 15 shots in a 3-1 win.
Early this season, the biggest concern for No. 12 Wisconsin (2-1-1) has been a 2-for-29 mark on the power play. In an effort to combat that deficiency, head coach Mike Eaves has rotated freshmen Ben Street and Jack Skille into different lines to try to find a scoring boost.
Street has already scored two goals for Wisconsin. Skille netted the game winner in overtime against St. Lawrence in the season opener in Madison. Eaves believes that once the scoring lines find their flow, they can matchup with anybody in the WCHA.
"I think the scoring will come from everyone eventually," Eaves said. "Last Friday, Jake Dowell's line was the line that stepped up and the next night it was Joe Pavelski's line. In due time, every line will contribute."
The Seawolves return virtually the same team that competed against the Badgers in the WCHA playoffs last season. Once again, Anchorage's standout players have been its goaltenders. Junior John DeCaro recorded a season best 35 saves in a win over rival Alaska-Fairbanks last week. In three games this season, DeCaro has posted a 1.34 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
Junior forward Charlie Kronschnabel, one of two returning players to have scored more than 20 points last season, has registered one goal and three assists. The surprise has been freshman defenseman Mat Robinson. In four games this season, Robinson has been a prolific puck mover, connecting on a team-high four assists.
According to Eaves, the Seawolves are quick with the puck and they play the game at a high tempo for 60 minutes. In order to match that pace, this week and throughout the season, Eaves is having the team practice at game speed more often this year. Eaves hopes that this philosophy will get his underclassman players ready to step in and contribute and to keep his veterans fresh.
"I think most teams practice at game pace, especially those [teams] at the highest level," Eaves said. "As a player in Minnesota, I remember going to watch the Montreal Canadians and being in awe of the way they practiced, because their tempo was game-like. It was unbelievable and intimidating. The closer you practice to game tempo, the easier it is to play to game tempo."
This weekend marks the opening of a treacherous stretch for Wisconsin. The Badgers will travel to No. 6 North Dakota Nov. 4-5, then host No. 3 Colorado College — the WCHA favorite — and Minnesota State, before hitting the road for No. 1 Michigan and No. 10 Michigan State and a weekend series with No. 7 Minnesota. Wisconsin has an early-season opportunity to assert itself as one of the nation's elite programs, or slip behind the pack.
The schedule for this year's team looks eerily similar to last season, when Wisconsin played six out of their first eight series at home and wound up playing a challenging road schedule to end the campaign.
"Well, it's pretty much been our course of scheduling here for the last couple of years so we're used to it," Eaves said. "We just have to control the things we can control… We want to win every game, but if you look at the big picture, it is important to put those points in the barn early."
What: No. 12 Wisconsin (2-1-1 overall, 1-0-1 WCHA) v. Alaska-Anchorage (2-2-0, 0-0-0)
When: Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Both games will be televised live on Fox Sports North. Radio broadcast on WIBA 1310 AM in Madison.
Series notes: Wisconsin is 32-12-8 all-time versus the Seawolves, including a 9-3 mark in the past two seasons.