If the Badgers hope to get their first notch in the win column this season, UW is going to have to rely on its youth even more when Wisconsin (0-4-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) host border-rival and seventh-ranked Minnesota (2-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) in a weekend series starting Friday.
In Wisconsin's 7-4 loss to Denver Saturday night, the Badgers lost senior captain Ben Street when the forward was checked into the boards and proceeded to get his knee landed on in the process. The result is Street suffering an ACL injury and being shelved from three to six months.
"He's been pretty steady," head coach Mike Eaves said about Street. "He's been a double-digit goal scorer, he hasn't missed a game. You're not going to get a lot of flash out of Ben, but you know what you're going to get game in and game out: strong, steady, hard, reliable. That's big shoes to fill."
With Street (Wisconsin's third-leading scorer last season) gone anywhere from late January to next season, the Badgers will have to rely on co-captain Blake Geoffrion to pick up his game. In four outings this year, Geoffrion has only one goal and is shooing .062 percent.
"He's going to have to step up," said Street about Geoffrion. "Other guys are going to have to step up as well. There's enough leaders in that room and enough guys who know what it takes to win that we'll be fine. It's not going to be a huge blow. It's not like I'm going away."
One place that has suffered some blows early on is the defense core. Although full of talent (UW has five drafted defensemen all selected in the top two rounds of the NFL draft), the defenseman are some of the many reasons Wisconsin is giving up an average of 5.75 goals per game.
There's no question that the unit is improving but with the rookies getting their first sense of the packed Kohl Center against UW's top rival, the growth will need to continue.
"We saw some good growth on Saturday night (against Denver) in terms of what we're looking for, things that we're trying to get at and these are things that are going to come through repetition, especially with a young group," Eaves said. "Based on what we saw, it was encouraging, but we've still got a lot of work to do in those areas."
Through four games, senior goalie Shane Connelly and sophomore goalie Scott Gudmandson have split time in goal so far to mix results. Gudmandson, who will take over full-time duties next season, has look good in patches but has struggled to keep the Badgers in games.
Connelly stopped a career-best 46 shots Friday in Denver but gave up five goals in the last 20 minutes as Wisconsin lost 6-5. When asked, Eaves believes that both goalies still have their confidence but a couple of wins against the Gophers would cure a lot of things for this program moving forward.
"You can't lose sight of how well you have played and continue to build on that, and he recognizes that," Eaves said. "He's been around, and he recognizes the fact that he did play well, and he needs to continue just to do that, and to have the whole group play well together so we get that first W would be exactly the medicine we need right now.
"We're 0-4. We're not where we want to be. We recognize the level of the opponents that we play. But in saying all of that, in looking at our record, there's only one way to go, and that is up. And so with that being said, let's move forward."
No.7 Minnesota (2-0-0, 2-0-0) vs. Wisconsin (0-4-0, 0-2-0)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, Oct. 24-25 at 7 p.m. CT
Arena – Kohl Center (15,237) - 200' x 97'
Television - Friday - FSN North; Saturday - Big Ten Network
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)
Series – Minnesota leads 149-80-17
Last Meeting – UW tied 4-4 at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis on Feb. 23, 2008
The teams split the 2007–08 season series, going 1-1-2 against each other, with both teams going 1-0-1 on their home ice ... Minnesota is the only WCHA team the Badgers do not own a winning record against all-time (80-149-17) ... the Badgers have played 246 games against the Gophers, the most against any opponent ... the UW is 49-60-11 against Minnesota in Madison and 8-10-2 against the Gophers at the Kohl Center