Homecoming for Licari, Carlson

Badger wingers return to the DECC and hope to find a spark for their slumping team

Whether home is miles, hours or days away, there is always a special feeling that a college student gets when he goes home.

Imagine how Nick Licari will feel when he goes home and suits up in a Badger uniform for the final time before dozens of family and friends when Wisconsin takes on Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.

"I'm looking forward to it, being a senior and going home, it'll be pretty cool," the senior winger said. "I was probably a little more nervous my freshman year because I didn't know what to expect."

Despite the wealth of memories that Licari has of playing at the DECC in Duluth, he is doing his best to treat it like any other game. But it will be hard, considering he spent much of his high school career there, helping sell out the arena and winning big games while building a strong tradition at Duluth East High School.

"I still think of it as my high school rink," Licari said. "I step on the ice and it brings back memories—even with playing with Ross [Carlson] back there."

Licari and Carlson spent a few seasons together while playing for East and even spent time on the same line.

Before Tuesday's practice, the two good friends from high school who reunited in Madison went out to lunch and talked about how neat it would be to play on the same line against the Bulldogs.

They got their wish. Not only will it be their last trip back home together in Badger uniforms, but they are slotted to be on the same line together.

"It'll be really sentimental. Coach (Mike Eaves) does have us on the same line right now, which is pretty awesome in itself," Carlson said. "Hopefully it will turn out the way we want it to."

"We've had them play together before and they enjoy playing together," Eaves said. "They have some chemistry … so I'm hoping that will excite them going back and playing together. It's like old golf pros going back and playing the course they grew up on."

Together, Licari and Carlson have used up more than their fair share of the allotment of tickets given to the team for this weekend's series. Suffice it to say, there will be no shortage of fans cheering for the Duluth natives when they take the ice.

"I have a fair amount of people and I know Ross does too so I think between the two of us, we'll combine for a lot of tickets," Licari said.

Another advantage the Duluth graduates may have is knowing the angles of the arena. The team practiced out at Capitol Ice Arena earlier this week to get used to a smaller sheet of ice.

"The DECC's a funny thing because the bounces can go either way," Carlson said. "It's small and really compact—it's more of a dump and chase game."

The Badgers hope Licari and Carlson will be a spark to a team that is looking to get out of its current funk.

It is hard to imagine a team saying that it is happy to go on the road, but a road trip may not have come at a better time for Wisconsin, which is unbeaten on the road this season despite trips to Minnesota, Colorado College and North Dakota.

"We play well on the road for whatever reason," Licari said. "I think we have that going for us. (The Bulldogs) might be struggling a little bit, but I think it's going to be tough for us."

The motto on the road is to keep it simple, something that the Badgers have struggled to do the last two weeks at home, which resulted in sweeps by Denver and Minnesota.

"At home we maybe try to do too many things," Licari said. "Coach uses the analogy of a tennis player. They just put it in play early in the match and almost wait for an opponent to make a mistake. And I think we do that on the road."

Duluth has had struggles of its own as of late, and not against the league's top teams. The Bulldogs have dropped six games in a row to Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech.

While the statistics and standings show a big difference, the story will probably continue to surround Shane Connelly between the pipes for the Badgers—or, more-so, if the team in front of him has adapted to playing with a netminder other than Brian Elliott.

In either case, nothing comes easy in the WCHA.

"Both teams are hungry for different reasons," Eaves said. "There's lots to play for in terms of where you finish in the standings. It's another weekend in the WCHA."

What: No. 4 Wisconsin (13-5-2 WCHA, 18-6-2 overall) at Minnesota-Duluth (5-12-3, 8-16-4)
When: Friday, Feb. 3, 7 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m.
Site: Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Duluth, Minn.
Broadcasts: Both games will be televised live on FSN North and broadcast live on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310.
Series notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 80-53-10, but are 2-3-2 in the last seven meetings. The Badgers are an even 32-32-6 when playing in Duluth. This is the only time the two teams will meet during the regular season.

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