Make or Break

Forget border battle. This weekend's Wisconsin-Minnesota series has more implications than a couple of bragging rights.

MADISON – This weekend could make or break Wisconsin's season.

Flying home from a successful three-point weekend in Anchorage, Alaska and looking ahead to what awaited them the following weekend, playing the hated border-rival in front of a packed crowd at the Kohl Center, this weekend has already generated a buzz.

"They couldn't wait for this weekend," Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. "To be back at the Kohl Center and to know that the Kohl Center was going to be packed, and who we were playing."

Sellout crowds and a rowdy atmosphere are more than likely on both Friday and Saturday nights when No. 16 Wisconsin hosts No.17 Minnesota in the two teams' first meeting of the year in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.

To say there is a lot riding on the men's hockey team's two-game series with border-rival Minnesota would be an understatement, as this series is just as important in the standings as it is to the rivalry.

The Badgers and the Gophers, along with the St. Cloud State Huskies, are part of a three-way tie for fifth place with 6-8-2 league records.

This series marks a chance for the Badgers to make an impact in the WCHA and make a push for the NCAA tournament field over the next six weeks.

Ending the season with a bye, the Badgers don't play a team that is more than three points ahead or four points behind them in the current standings, including traveling to Minneapolis on Feb. 22 and 23.

Basically, there are plenty of chances for Wisconsin to shake up the league standings.

"This is one of those situations (where), as a coach, you want to make sure your team doesn't over prepare and get emotionally jacked, because when that happens, you don't play your best," Eaves said. "We have things that we need to focus on as a team, and by doing those things, that'll give us the best chance to play at the optimal level."

But in addition to the league standings, the Wisconsin-Minnesota series will drastically affect the two teams national positioning heading towards the post season.

Wisconsin, Minnesota and UMD are tied for 16th in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the selection process for the 16-team NCAA tournament.

After this weekend's series, the Badgers host Minnesota-Duluth on Feb. 1 and 2 in their only meeting during the regular season.

With Wisconsin and Minnesota having never both finished in the bottom half of the WCHA standings in the same season, this series has all the more intrigue going into this weekend's series.

"This is going to be a great hockey weekend," Eaves said. "And this is going to be one that probably at the end of the year we'll look back and this could be -- here we go again, saying it's the biggest weekend of the year, Friday's the biggest game of the year. But, in fact, it truly is because of where we are in the standings and how tight things are."

The key for the Badgers continuing their three-game unbeaten streak is getting back to success in the third period.

After being outscored in the third period in their last home stand against Colorado College, Wisconsin scored twice to erase a two-goal deficit in last Saturday's game against Anchorage, marking the 14th time the UW has outscored its opponent in the final period of regulation.

One of the key players in that stretch was freshman Kyle Turris, who has had his fair share of world travel over the past month.

Since the Badgers ended the first half at Minnesota State on Dec. 8, Turris went to Calgary for World Junior Championship training camp, to the tournament in the Czech Republic, to Denver and to Anchorage. All in all, Turris has been through approximately 26 time zones.

That little nugget did not stop Eaves from playing Turris on two lines in the third period of the series finale at Anchorage to spark the offense, which ultimately got the Badgers an important point.

"If anything, he relishes that," Eaves said. "I think he's got a natural capacity to play a lot. Last year in junior hockey, he was playing over 30 minutes a game, which I thought was too much then. But he's used to playing a lot, and I think he's got that natural aerobic capacity to recover quickly and be able to go back out there."

Wisconsin Badgers (10-10-4, 6-8-2 WCHA) vs. Minnesota (12-10-4, 6-8-2 WCHA)

Dates/Times: Fri.-Sat, Jan. 25-26 at 7 p.m. CT

Location: Kohl Center (15,237)

Live TV: Friday on MyMadison TV with Paul Braun and Rob Andringa and FSN Minnesota. Saturday on FSN North and CSTV.

Tape-Delay TV: Wisconsin Public Television with Robb Vogel and Ron Vincent (Friday) and Theran Welsh (Saturday)

Radio: Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick/Bill Howard)

Coaches: Wisconsin's Mike Eaves (6th year: 117-88-27); UM's Don Lucia (9th year at UM: 232-106-33; 21st year overall: 511-261-62)

Last Meeting: W, 3-1, Madison, Wis., 2/10/07

Series Records: Wisconsin trails 79-148-15, At UW: UW trails 48-60-10

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