Preview: Defenders Beware

With nine of the top 10 scorers in the WCHA scheduled to be on the ice this weekend in Duluth, onlookers are expecting a shootout between No.2 Wisconsin and No.9 Minnesota Duluth. Bring that ploy up to the Badgers defensemen and they have something different to say.

MADISON – A long time ago, Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Eaves used to go into a series with a preconceived notion with how it was going to play out, whether it'd be a series where the offense would shine or the defense would be strong.

After a couple years in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Eaves has given up trying to predict the future.

"You try to read into situations where you think your team is at and history tells you that's not the way it plays out," he said. "You've got to be able to adapt and adjust, and that's what good teams do."

Even if Eaves thought about the future, the theme for any team when they visit the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center is adjustments. With the small rink dimensions (190x85), high-scoring games are typical, but this weekend's series between No.2 Wisconsin (14-6-4, 10-5-3 WCHA) and No.9 Minnesota Duluth (16-9-1, 12-5-1) could set records.

Nine of the top 10 scorers in the conference will be on the ice with the top three coming from the Bulldogs – junior winger Justin Fontaine (13-12-25), sophomore center Jack Connolly (10-14-24) and sophomore winger Mike Connolly (7-17-24).

With the Badgers having senior tri-captain center Blake Geoffrion (15-8-23), defenseman Brendan Smith (7-14-21), center Derek Stepan (2-19-21), winger Michael Davies (6-13-19) and winger Craig Smith (4-15-19), this could surpass the combined 31 goals these two teams combined for in 1982.

Then again, these two teams skated to a 0-0 tie nearly three years ago.

"How do you explain that when you don't get any goals in a small rink with the puck always in play?" Eaves questioned. "You never know what's going to happen. You truly don't."

If the Wisconsin defense has anything to say about it, the storylines will be about the lack of offense on the part of Duluth. Although Wisconsin is the second-highest scoring team in the nation (four goals per game), the Badgers defenders are allowing only 2.33 goals per contest, in addition to the defensive corps leading the nation with a 3.17 points-per-game mark.

"I don't know how many schools can say they have a goal against average under two, which means we are doing really well defensively," said Brendan Smith. We have great stay-at-home defensemen, and that throws off some teams when they figure out that we don't give up many chances."

Part of the low goals allowed amount is a tribute to junior goalie Scott Gudmandson, currently playing his best stretch of hockey in his career. Starting his eighth straight game last Friday before getting Saturday off, Gudmandson posted an unbeaten record of 4-0-3. In 10 games played, Gudmandson is 5-1-3 and leads the WCHA by allowing only 2.11 goals per game.

"I feel great," Gudmandson said. "I mean, things have been going my way, I'm having a bit of puck luck and the work I put in this summer has really helped. Every game I go into, I want to put up a zero."

The only differences in between this series and the one the Badgers just got done playing is the team and the venue. Other than that, the talent level separating then-No.1 Denver and Minnesota Duluth is razor thin. Both teams have potent offenses, physical players and are good on special teams, as Duluth leads the conference with 24.2 conversion rate on the power play.

Two games left in its six-game stretch against top-ten teams, Wisconsin holds a record of 2-1-1. Although confident, UW is still stinging from its first-period woes in the Saturday match-up of Colorado College. After going into that game complacent, that memory in the back of its mind is said to drive the badgers to the finish line.

"That made a little bit of a statement to the rest of the country, getting three points, but we need to continue playing that way for it to mean something," Gudmandson said. "We've got to try to steal two points and we've got to go in with that mindset of taking two points."

No.3 Wisconsin (14-6-4, 10-5-3 WCHA) vs. No.9 Minnesota Duluth (16-9-1, 12-5-1 WCHA)

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday, January 29-30 at 7 p.m. CT

Arena – Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (5,294) - Rink Size - 190 x 85

Television - Charter Extra 87

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

Series – UW leads 86-56-13 (35-33-8 in Duluth)

Last Meeting - Duluth won, 1-0, on Jan. 31, 2009 in Madison

Series Notes

UW is 2-0-2 in its last four games against UMD in Duluth

The Badgers are 2-2-1 in the last five games and 5-2-3 over the last 10 games against UMD

This weekend's games are the only two meetings between the two schools this regular season

UMD assistant coach Steve Rohlik played at Wisconsin (1986–90) and was teammates with current UW assistant Mark Osiecki when the team won the 1990 national championship

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