Preview: Looking for the Rightful Owner

With No.3 Wisconsin having its most senior-filled team since winning the national championship in 2006, UW head coach Mike Eaves felt those veterans would have taken ownership by now. While it hasn't quite happened yet, Eaves is hoping that transfer of power occurs this weekend against No.1 Denver.

MADISON - Although he is the coach, Wisconsin's Mike Eaves doesn't want to be the owner of the third-ranked men's hockey team. Granted he still wants to teach, fine tune and prepare the Badgers for the final seven weeks of the regular season, but his goal each year is to let the seniors take the reigns in terms of motivating, pushing and owning their own team.

After last weekend's up-and-down play, the transfer of ownership is still a work in progress.

"It's evolving in how you measure it and where you measure it, and this weekend I thought it was an opportunity to measure it, especially after Friday's game," Eaves said. "We didn't meet it the way I thought that we might and hoped."

After pushing its unbeaten streak to seven games (5-0-2) following last Friday's shutout over Colorado College, the Badgers dug themselves a three-goal hole and watched as their valiant effort fell short in a 6-5 setback, giving the Tigers tiebreaking edge and knocked the Badgers into a tie for fourth place.

"There's a lesson to be learned there, and we'll address that," Eaves said. "Hopefully the next time it comes up that we are better suited to handle that challenge."

Should Wisconsin execute that lesson to perfection this weekend, the Badgers will find themselves in prime position to make a big splash on the national scene, as No.1 Denver comes to Madison for a Friday-Saturday series at the Kohl Center.

The similarities between the two schools are a common formula to a winning hockey program – good background, good defense and good special teams that involve talented, smart, hard-nosed athletes believing in the system.

Both Eaves and Denver coach George Gwozcecky are subscribers to that theory (after all, they were teammates on Wisconsin's 1977 National Championship team). The Badgers and the Pioneers rank less than a percentage point apart in penalty kill and power play while UW have given up .15 goals less per game than Denver. It's at that point where the similarities stop.

Denver is 9-1 in regular season games and has won seven straight regular-season games at the Kohl Center dating to 2004-05. Overall, the Pioneers are 13-2-2 at the Kohl Center since it opened for hockey in 1998-99. One of the few defeats the Badgers handed the Pioneers was a 6-2 loss in the 2008 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals.

Thrown in the fact that Wisconsin hasn't scored on junior goalie Marc Cheverie in the past 138 minutes, 39 seconds, Eaves knows his seniors are itching to break such a negative trend.

"They know what's at stake," Eaves said. "They know the type of team we're playing. They know how we can play. And I think much is the same message that was there last week in terms of looking for this mastery approach to this weekend and these next series is about practicing every day with great intensity and playing with no fear."

The emotional work Eaves and his staff will have to do over the next three weekends is minimal, considering the magnitude of the games. Currently, Wisconsin sits in a tie for fourth in the unofficial PairWise Rankings, a process that mimics the NCAA Tournament selection process, meaning the Badgers are in line for a number one seed.

After this weekend with Denver (which sits in a tie for first in the rankings), the Badgers will travel to No.4 Minnesota Duluth (third in the rankings) before hosting Michigan (a team that beat UW 3-2 in November) at the much-hyped Camp Randall Hockey Classic.

"It goes without saying that (this is) an important stretch and to how it defines a season,' Eaves said. "We were in a defining moment last year as well. We had six games at the end of the year that could have projected us into the top, and it was a series (sweep by) Denver that was a turning point for us. So once again, we're here. We have more games after this weekend, so, but it is an important part because of where these teams stand in the national rankings and where they are in the WCHA."

With Wisconsin needing a big weekend, expect to see the Badgers' veterans take another step forward. Junior defenseman Brendan Smith is tied for sixth in the country in point-per-game after finishing the Colorado College series plus-7, junior goalie Scott Gudmandson (2.17 goals against average, 92.3 save ratio) will start his eighth consecutive game in the opener and senior forward Michael Davies will look to increase his five-game scoring streak against a team he's registered 14 points against in 14 games.

"Could this past game be that turning point?" Eaves pondered. "Our hope is yes, especially when I think we addressed it as a group and looking at what happened and moving forward from that fact."

No.1 Denver (14-5-3, 10-3-3 WCHA) vs. No.3 Wisconsin (13-6-3, 9-5-2 WCHA)

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday, January 22-23 at 7 p.m. CT

Arena – Kohl Center (15,237) - Rink Size - 200 x 97

Television - Friday – Live on FSN, Delayed on WPT, Saturday – NHL Network/Charter Extra/Time Warner Sports, Delayed on WPT

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

Live Blog - Series – UW leads 71-55-9 (33-29-5 in Madison)

Last Meeting - Denver won, 3-0, on March 20 at the 2009 WCHA Final Five in Minneapolis

Series Notes

The Badgers are 8-2-2 at the Kohl Center this season.

The Badgers are on a five-game losing streak in the series, losing all five games to the Pioneers during the 2008-09 season. The Badgers have been shutout in each of the last two meetings between the two schools

Prior to the five-game losing streak, the Badgers won five of six games against DU

Wisconsin is 7-17-2 against Denver under head coach Mike Eaves, with three of the victories coming in the postseason

The Badgers are 2-9-0 against Denver at the Kohl Center in the Eaves' era. Wisconsin's most recent victory over Denver came March 29, 2008 in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, a 6-2 victory at the Kohl Center

Denver head coach George Gwozdecky is a former Badger teammate of UW head coach Mike Eaves

DU senior Tyler Ruegsegger is the brother UW women's frosh goalie Becca Ruegsegger

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