Let the (WCHA) games begin again

Badger men's hockey team faces marquee matchup in first conference series in more than a month

The air will be light, but the energy will be high when No. 1 Wisconsin travels to take on No. 5 Colorado College this weekend.

The weekend marks the beginning of the Badgers' toughest stretch of the season, one that will either bust the WCHA race wide open down the stretch, or solidify Wisconsin's spot atop the standings.

"It's a huge series for us and for them too," leading-scorer Joe Pavelski said. "It can change the whole WCHA around. These four points are huge."

The Tigers are lurking just five points behind Wisconsin and surely losing at the Kohl Center just two months ago is still fresh in their minds.

And as if the prospect of getting even with the top-ranked Badgers and gaining ground in the chase for the McNaughton Cup were not enough, the series should be even more heated due to a controversial hit in the waning seconds of a 3-0 UW win the last time these two teams met.

Badger senior captain Adam Burish gave Tiger forward Scott Thauwald a shoulder, sending him into the boards at the buzzer. The blow put Thauwald out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Tempers flared and post-game fisticuffs ensued.

"I'm not worried about it. The CC papers have been asking the same questions," Burish said. "I don't know what to expect."

The captain did say that if things were a little heated, it would probably only benefit his play.

"It would make me more jacked up. I'll be more aware and more excited. If they're going to start talking trash I love that," Burish said. "I'll have some fun with it and that'll make me more into the game and keep me intense. I like it when somebody is in my face all the time."

Nonetheless, UW head coach Mike Eaves said he thinks that the two teams have too much riding on the line for the hit to be the main issue.

"It'll probably heighten the intensity of the series, but college hockey and the rules and the way they are, for retribution to take place on the ice, you know, you've got the No. 1 and No. [5] teams playing in the country and there's a lot at stake, and to be foolish would be very counterproductive for either team," Eaves said.

Still, the players know that the intensity levels will be running on all cylinders when the two teams take to the ice at the World Arena.

The series marks the end of a long league-layoff for both teams. The Tigers last played in WCHA action Dec. 17, while the Badgers have not taken on a league opponent since Dec. 10.

"Guys are excited. The biggest thing is just the pace of the play is going to pick up," Burish said. "As long as we're back up to WCHA speed I think we'll be fine."

Noting the play of Colorado College a week ago, Wisconsin will definitely have to begin the game at WCHA speed and ready for early action.

With a new-look lineup that included the splitting up of Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling onto separate lines, the Tigers dominated the Great Lakes Invitational, stomping Michigan 6-1 before defeating Michigan State 6-3.

But the new lineup has not changed the mentality or preparation of the UW team.

"We haven't even talked about them all week. We're focused on ourselves," Burish said.

"We've got a strong lineup top to bottom," Pavelski said. "They're both really talented hockey players, so every line's got to be there."

Undoubtedly the Badgers will continue to rely on junior goalie Brian Elliott, who is on pace to shatter several UW season records if he can keep up a similar pace to what he accomplished in the first half of the season.

Thanks to a 1.39 goals against average and a .944 save percentage, the Badgers have opened the season 16-2-2 overall and an unbeaten 7-0-1 on the road, which includes trips to North Dakota and Minnesota.

One interesting difference in the trip to Colorado College is the change in altitudes and the effects it can have on players, which makes for shorter shifts, especially on the largest sheet of ice in the WCHA.

"You kind of feel it, but you try to get acclimated with the atmosphere," Pavelski said. "We've got to be smart with what we do—get it in deep and go to work."

The Badgers definitely have their work cut out for them as two teams with big heads of steam will collide Friday and Saturday nights.

What: No. 1 Wisconsin (11-1-2 WCHA, 16-2-2 overall) at No. 5 Colorado College (17-6-1, 9-4-1)
When: Friday, Jan. 13, 8:30 p.m.; and Saturday, Jan. 14, 8 p.m.
Site: World Arena, Colorado Springs, Colo.
Broadcasts: Friday's game will be broadcast on TV live on FSN North while Saturday's contest will appear live on ESPNU. Both games can be heard live on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310 and live game audio can be heard on the web at uwbadgers.com.
Series notes: Wisconsin leads the overall series with a 102-50-8 all-time record against Colorado College. The Badgers are 1-0-1 against the Tigers this season and own a 44-23-3 record against them in games that take place in Colorado Springs.

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