Resting But Stressing

While Derek Stepan and his Wisconsin hockey teammates deal with some missed opportunities and the desire to get back on the ice, the Badgers take solace that they will be well rested for the stretch run of the WCHA season.

MADISON – Whether the members of the Wisconsin men's hockey team are looking at the glass half full or half empty is irrelevant. All the Badgers have to do is look at the standings to know they are in a dogfight.

Sitting in second place, but with two games at hand, in the physical WCHA, the Badgers know that every point is critical with 10 games left. Knowing that, the fact that Wisconsin losing a 2-0 lead at home last Saturday, eventually falling to third-place Colorado College for a series split, still leaves a bitter taste in the player's mouth.

"It's bitter pill to swallow and live with for two weeks," center Derek Stepan said. "I would like to get back into the swing of things. We played well on Friday but we kind of let things slip up a little bit on Saturday. We're going to do a lot of practice, learn from our mistakes and we've got to get better."

The big bugaboo for Wisconsin on Saturday was, collectively as a group, the Badgers didn't bring the same energy that led them to a 6-1 win the night before. The passes were a little bit off, the legs were a little heavy and, in all possibility, the grind of the long trek up to Anchorage the week before caught up to them.

Which is why with seven weeks left in the conference season, the Badgers, thanks to the odd scheduling of the WCHA, get two bye weeks, giving the team the necessary break to regroup, recharge and, arguably, be more rested than any other conference team.

"It's big to get some rests," defenseman Cody Goloubef said. "We know these games coming up are big. I think it helps, the timing is nice and we're here to win."

Not only is the rest going to be key for Goloubef and fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who practice and played with Team Canada and Team USA, respectively, in the World Junior Championships, it's beneficial for the freshman like Stephan.

Although skating upwards of 65 hockey games at Shattuck St. Mary's in past seasons, Stepan isn't pretending it's the same kind of grind, as the levels of play are far from comparable.

"You've got to play hard every night and you can't do some of the things you did in high school," Stepan said. "I've felt pretty good about keeping my legs under me, but it's playing hard, playing tough every night."

After starting off 0-4-1 in conference, Wisconsin reeled off 10 wins and one tie in its next 13 games against league opponents. Even so, the Badgers are still on the outside of the NCAA tournament picture looking in, knowing that each game is a must win.

With only three points separating first from fifth place, the Badgers know that they'll be well rested when Wisconsin hosts league heavyweights Denver and North Dakota while traveling to Minnesota.

"It's going to be a fun end of the year with a lot of competitive hockey," Stepan said. "It's going to be nitty and gritty, which is a perfect fit for us.

"You've got to be happy with it, but you can't be satisfied. We've got to continue to grow and mature as a team. We're in a good spot right now, but we could be in a better spot. We've let some points slip here and there, but we have a stretch here at the end that could put ourselves in a better spot."

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