Men's hockey: Dowell fighting slump

Badgers carry eight-game unbeaten streak into weekend series, look to slow MSU's David Backes

Junior Jake Dowell sets high standards for himself when it comes to hockey — he always has and he always will.

A product of the National Team Developmental Program, the University of Wisconsin center was fifth on the team with 26 points a year ago, netting 12 goals and dishing out 14 assists. Yet, 10 games into this season, he has just four helpers and has yet to find the back of the net.

It is not that he hasn't had his chances — he'll tell you that he's had plenty of them. He just can't seem to get a bounce to go his way.

"I've come so close, I feel like I just need to get one here and I'll start getting on a roll," Dowell said. "It might just get me over the hump."

Perhaps that bounce will come against Minnesota State when the Badgers take on the Mavericks in a rare Saturday/Sunday series at the Kohl Center this weekend.

While his spirits may be a little low due to the early-season drought, Dowell is by no means giving up on his role of being a goal-scorer this year for UW.

"I definitely want my role to be one of the guys that can score goals," Dowell said. "I was one of them last year and I still think I can, I just need to get myself going and get some more confidence."

Fans of the Badgers have seen it before — in fact, very recently. Senior Ryan MacMurchy had a 12-game streak without a goal two seasons ago, but ended up tied for second on the team with 15 goals at year's end.

Adding to the struggle for Dowell is an inconsistency in playing partners. The Eau Claire, Wis. native has played with a variety of linemates — including stints between MacMurchy and Andrew Joudrey as well as time with Jack Skille and Ross Carlson. He seemingly centers a new-fangled line every weekend.

But Dowell will tell you that it shouldn't matter who he plays with.

"It's definitely a little bit tougher, but it's nothing I can really dwell on," Dowell said. "If I'm a good enough player I should be able to play with whoever I'm with."

The lines will again be switched up this weekend as the Badgers will be without senior captain Adam Burish for Saturday's game. Burish is unavailable due to a disqualification at the end of last Saturday's 3-0 win over Colorado College.

Skille is expected to play right wing alongside Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski, with the result a line of the team's top three scorers this season.

The forwards will need to put some pucks in the net against the Mavericks, who are typically more offensive minded. In particular, they will need to shut down junior David Backes, who after tallying 80 points in his first two seasons, leads Minnesota State with 14 so far this year.

"I think that everyone knows that he is one of the elite players in the league," UW junior defenseman Jeff Likens said. "I think people just don't talk about him as much because his team is never up at the top of the league."

Backes has been a thorn in the Badgers' side over the past two seasons, scoring five goals and posting one assist in the six games between the two teams over that span.

"He's a good player — he's big, he's strong, he's got a big-time release," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "He's a different type of player than a (Brett) Sterling or a (Marty) Sertich (from Colorado College), but you better know when he's on the ice and what he can do."

But this time around, Backes will have to contend for the first time with UW goalie Brian Elliott, perhaps the hottest goaltender in the nation, and a Badger defense that leads the WCHA.

"[Backes] has had some success against us, but we have a lot of guys who can put the puck in the net just like him," junior forward Jake Dowell said. "He's just one guy and we're going to focus on him, but overall [focus on] good defense. We have confidence in Brian Elliott to stop some shots."

Elliott currently ranks second in the country with a .944 save percentage and a 1.38 goals against average and backstops a team which is giving up just 1.25 goals per game in league competition.

Sophomore defenseman Josh Engel, who saw his first action this year in last Friday's tie, will be in the lineup for at least one more game this weekend, as Eaves looks to pad his defensive depth chart as the season wears on.

"Josh will play again this weekend," Eaves said. "It's a long season and we need to have at least seven people going and having some game experience."

As for Dowell, he is down, but not too down. He knows that the majority of his goals came early last year — he had nine goals on Dec. 10 and just three the rest of the way. He's doing his best to look at the bright side. Maybe his offensive numbers will peak in the latter half of the season when things matter most.

"It's great to score goals and I obviously want to, but last year I scored a whole bunch in the first half of the year and not as many in the second when we kind of need it," Dowell said. "If (the opposite is) the case this year, then I'll take it."

What: Minnesota State (2-4-2 WCHA, 2-6-2 overall) at No. 2 Wisconsin (6-0-2, 7-1-2)
When: Saturday, Nov. 19, 7 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 20, 8 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Both contests will be broadcast live on TV on FSN North and will be carried live on the radio by 1310 WIBA-AM
Series notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 11-7-2 and leads 7-2-1 in Madison. The two teams split their only series last season in Mankato. The teams have played in seven overtimes in their 20 games, with the Badgers going 2-3-2 in those contests.

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