Preview: Finding the Inner Smith

After the Badgers' offense stalled in its season-opening weekend, the Wisconsin men's hockey team heads on the road for the first time, looking to get two vital pieces of its attack back in the fold.

MANKATO, Minn. – It's no secret that Wisconsin's offense was at a standstill during points and periods during the season opening series against Colorado College.

It's also not a secret that the absences of two high-powered weapons, missing in action for two different reasons, were a part of the problem, as senior forward Blake Geoffrion missed five periods of hockey with a upper-body injury while junior defenseman Brendan Smith was practically missing all six periods.

While Geoffrion is still day-to-day, Smith will be back in the rotation when the Badgers travel to Minnesota State for its first road series, which begins tonight at 7 p.m., and looking to make amends from a disappointing opening weekend.

After ranking second among UW defensemen with 23 points, Smith made two critical mistakes in the neutral zone last Friday, both of which led to CC goals in a 3-2 defeat. When the Badgers tied CC on Saturday, Smith watched from the stands.

"We had a terrific talk (Monday), talked about the weekend, talked about the things that came out of this weekend, and looking forward to getting him back in there," UW coach Mike Eaves said. "I think that Brendan, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and I think that he's got to learn to control that, to direct it in the right areas, and he's making those strides."

Drafted as the 27th-overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2007 NHL Draft, Smith scored all nine of his goals on the power play, but that unit struggled, going 1-for-10 in the series. Throw in the fact that Geoffrion's absence forced the Badgers to reshuffle their entire lineup, a confident Smith in the lineup is a welcome addition.

"We just have to continue to hold him accountable and give him feedback and help him grow in those areas that allow his strengths to remain his strengths rather than have those become vices for him," Eaves said. "Sometimes your virtue can become your vice."

The Badgers' best quality of the weekend came from their two goaltenders. Junior transfer Brett Bennett and junior Scott Gudmandson each played well enough to earn a victory and keep a struggling offense within striking distance.

Although both goalies answered doubts about the strength of the position, the question becomes whether the Badgers play both goalies each weekend or keep one on the ice for six periods.

"That will be decided as we go, but we saw two pretty good performances by our young goaltenders," Eaves said.

Although the Badgers are facing a Mavericks squad that was swept in their conference opener, Wisconsin knows from experience that little things come easy on this road trip. Holding a 4-9-3 lifetime record on the road in the series, the Badgers haven't won in Mankato since December 2004.

"It's (an) Olympic size (rink), but you don't realize that until you get there," Eaves said. "The way they play, the shape of the building makes it seem smaller because they're right on top of you, then the fans. It's like a junior rink, and it's a tough building to play and win in, as we know firsthand."

No.17 Wisconsin (0-1-1, 0-1-1 WCHA) vs. Minnesota State (2-2-0, 0-2-0 WCHA)

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday, October 23-24 at 7:30/7 p.m. CT

Television - None (follow Badger Nation's free blog!)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)

Series – Wisconsin leads 17-13-4 (MSU leads 9-4-3 in Mankato)

Last Meeting - The Badgers swept the Mavericks, 7-1 and 4-2, in the first round of the 2009 WCHA playoffs at the Kohl Center.

Notes:

The games will mark the 35th and 36th meetings between the two schools, the fewest for the Badgers against any WCHA foe

The Badgers have never swept the Mavericks in eight series at the Verizon Wireless Center and have taken just one series in the building with three points on Jan. 2-3, 2004

The Badgers are 2-4-1 in true road openers under Head Coach Mike Eaves. During two of the seasons during the Eaves' Era, the Badgers played at a neutral site for their first road trip and won both games. Counting those trips, the Badgers are 3-3-1 playing away from the Kohl Center for the first time during seasons with Eaves as head coach.

Freshman defenseman John Ramage and freshman Craig Smith collected the only points of last weekend for Badger newcomers.

The Badgers are 0-6-11 in overtimes since ending the 2006–07 season with a 4-3 overtime victory against St. Cloud State in the 2007 WCHA Final Five third-place game. The Badgers already played in an overtime game this season, skating to a 1-1 tie against Colorado College last Saturday.

Wisconsin, which had the second-best penalty kill in the WCHA in 2008–09 (88.9 percent in WCHA games), went 9-for-10 on the kill last weekend (90 percent). The only power-play goal the Badgers allowed came during a Colorado College 5-on-3 advantage.

Wisconsin's defensemen finished last season as the second-highest scoring defense in the country with 118 points, 30 goals and 2.95 points-per-game average. The group reached the score sheet in both Badger games last weekend, with juniors Cody Goloubef and Brendan Smith picking up assists last Friday and rookie John Ramage earning the only UW assist last Saturday against Colorado College.


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