Men's hockey: ready for No. 1

Visiting Colorado College will challenge Badgers in weekend series in the Kohl Center

Wisconsin will be fighting fire with fire when they take on No. 1 Colorado College at the Kohl Center this week, as two of the countries hottest teams battle for first place in the WCHA.

The Tigers have been on fire since the beginning of this season, jumping out to a 9-1-0 record. But the Badgers have been just as good as of late, opening WCHA play on a six-game unbeaten streak, their best since 1982.

Colorado College boasts two of the best forwards in the country in Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling. Sterling leads the league with 10 goals, or one per game, and 19 points. Sertich is not far behind with 15 points and defenseman Brian Salcido has pitched in with a league-high 14 assists.

But the Badgers, who started the year off somewhat slowly, have picked up the offensive pace as of late, scoring 19 goals in their last four games, including eight on the road at North Dakota a week ago.

While Wisconsin may not boast league-leading scorers, that may be a blessing in disguise. Colorado College has perhaps the best line in the country, but UW has been getting offense from all four of their offensive lines.

"We need to make sure we have all four lines going," assistant captain Andrew Joudrey said. "As much as that one line scores for them, if our other three lines that aren't matched up against that top line aren't playing well, they're going to take advantage of that and score."

Every line may find it hard to score this weekend, however, as each of the teams' rosters include one of the WCHA's best goaltenders.

Wisconsin's Brian Elliott has been a wall in between the pipes for the Badgers since taking over the top spot at the beginning of the year and was last week's WCHA co-Defensive Player of the Week.

"In hockey it always comes down to one thing: goaltending. That's the first thing you look at," UW head coach Mike Eaves explained. "You go from the goal line, to the blue line, to the red line where the forwards are, so goaltending is always the key factor."

The junior leads the league with a .942 save percentage and a 1.48 goals against average and has not given up more than two goals in his last 12 starts — all astonishing numbers for a guy who figured to be the team's biggest question mark heading into the season, at least in the eyes of the media and fans.

"Everyone was still a little unsure about him, but we were always sure because he just works so hard and has incredible talent," senior winger Ryan MacMurchy said. "We're just going to ride his coattails all year."

But Colorado College's netminder Matt Zaba is no slouch himself. The junior is second to Elliott with a 1.72 goals against average and third in the league with a .930 save percentage — numbers that could easily lead the league if Elliott was not playing so well. But the Badgers ran into a hot goalie last weekend in North Dakota's Jordan Parise, and while he played well, they found ways to beat him.

One of those ways was through special teams. Wisconsin's power play has picked up the pace and the Badgers scored all four of last Saturday's goals on special teams — three on the power play and one shorthanded.

"Right now our numbers are going up because we've been able to recruit and get kids who had that innate ability and those moments of truth that you can't teach," Eaves said. "And because of that fact the numbers are going to go up and they continue to go up because of that ability that they bring."

A wild weekend is in store for fans at the Kohl Center. It's hard to say exactly what will happen as two teams with big heads of steam collide this weekend with crucial league points on the line.

"We're just really excited for the opportunity to get a chance and see where we match up against these guys and how well we can play," Joudrey said. "I think this will be a really good indicator of where we're at so far in the season and what kind of team we are right now."

What: No. 1 Colorado College (4-0-0 WCHA, 9-1-0 overall) at No. 5 Wisconsin (5-0-1, 6-1-1)
When: Friday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 12, 8 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Friday night's contest will be broadcast live on Fox Sports North and CSTV. Friday night's game can be heard on WIBA 1310 AM and Saturday night's game can be heard on WTSO 1070 AM.
Series notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 101-50-7 and leads 53-24-3 in Madison. However, the Badgers are 2-6-2 in their last 10 games against the Tigers, including a split in their only series a year ago.

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