Men's hockey: Scene change

Badgers cannot look forward to Lambeau Leap this week, but crucial WCHA games await.

Talk about a change of environment. Less than a week ago the Badgers capped off a 4-2 victory over Ohio State at Lambeau Field by performing a Lambeau Leap into a few dozen of the 40,830 on hand.

This weekend, No. 3 Wisconsin heads to Houghton, Mich., where it will take on Michigan Tech, the eighth-place team in the WCHA, before 4,200 fans. One week apart, a 90 percent decrease in the amount of fans — and that's if the MacInnes Student Ice Arena sells out.

"[It'll] be a little different — 40,000 minus 38,000 — we'll see, you never know what it's going to be like up there," junior defenseman Jeff Likens said.

"It's a big change," sophomore center Joe Pavelski said. "We know what we've got to do and we've been successful on the road to this point. It's another building."

The talk after the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic was all about carrying the energy that the Badgers felt after the win into the stretch run of WCHA play.

But while it is a drastic change of venues, attendance and fans, UW head coach Mike Eaves did not seem too concerned that his team would be taken by surprise by the Huskies.

"I would hope to wager that what these games mean will make up for some of that," Eaves said. "I like the Michigan Tech building — it's a hockey building. And with what's at stake and what's going on in the league, I think that will more than make up for [that]."

Indeed this may become a crucial weekend in deciding who earns the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA's regular season champion. While the Badgers held an eight-point stronghold just a month ago, they are now looking to claw their way back to the top.

Wisconsin saw that lead slip away and now trails first-place Denver by two points and is one point behind Minnesota. Coincidentally, the importance of this weekend magnifies for the Badgers because the Pioneers and Gophers face off in a series of their own.

Through a couple different scenarios, UW could find itself tied atop the standings once again at the end of the weekend if all goes well.

"We're trying to get to the top, and DU's still there right now and they're playing just as good, just like you'd expect," Pavelski said.

Considering the magnitude of the upcoming weekend, it should be safe to say that the Badgers will not be taking the Huskies lightly this time around, as they did when Michigan Tech came to Madison in December.

The Huskies took them by surprise, handing them a 4-2 defeat, their first loss in WCHA all season.

Since then, Michigan Tech has garnered at least one point in each of its WCHA series.

"They're a team that works like dogs, and they got a point versus Minnesota because their goalie stood on his head," Eaves said. "If they can get that same type of performance, anything can happen."

Led by forward Chris Conner, who has 26 points this season and 12 points in 10 career games against Wisconsin, Michigan Tech will be looking to gain momentum heading into the postseason.

The Badgers will hope that the return of junior goaltender Brian Elliott will make up for the drastic change in venues from last week. The nation's leader in goals against average and save percentage has been out the past four weekends, will return to play one game against Tech.

"I think [getting him back] would be a pretty big boost," Pavelski said. "You know what he can do, some of the saves he can make. But we can't [think] that just because he's back there he's going to do it for us."

Though Eaves wouldn't speculate as to which night which goalie would play, the Badgers have began building some confidence in rookie backup Shane Connelly. Though they are 2-5-0 with him between the pipes, they have now won two of their last three.

Either way, it seems that Wisconsin will need to get the job done for whoever is in net on either night if it hopes to regain its spot atop the WCHA standings and make a run at the title.

The chase goes into full throttle this weekend, and the Badgers need a sweep. But even if they get it, there will be no Lambeau Leap this time around.

"We can't do the Houghton Spin or the Houghton Leap," said Likens, who led the charge into the stands last weekend. "There's nothing cool about that."

What: No. 3 Wisconsin (14-6-2 WCHA, 20-7-2 overall) at Michigan Tech (6-12-4, 7-19-4)
When: Friday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m.; and Saturday, Feb. 18, 6 p.m.
Site: MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Mich.
Broadcasts: Both games will be broadcast live on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310 with live audio also available on
Series notes: Wisconsin is 82-41-6 against Michigan Tech all-time and 28-23-2 in Houghton. The Badgers are 19-3-0 against the Huskies in their last 22 games, but split a series earlier this season in Madison.

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