Preview: Hoping to Use the Outdoor Magic

No.3 Wisconsin is through its toughest stretch of the season but if it's going to replicate the success, and near deju, of 2006, the Badgers will have to navigate a stretch of games against teams with nothing to lose, starting against Minnesota State Friday.

MADISON - It's a stretch to compare, but the year ‘2006' has been thrown in the faces of more than a couple Wisconsin players and coaches since the season started in October.

That season, the Badgers – a team filled with a large group of seniors much like this year's squad - used an outdoor win over Ohio State in the Frozen Tundra Classic at Lambeau Field to energize them for a 10-3-1 finish and win the program's sixth national championship.

It was during that stretch though the Badgers had a two-game series in Mankato that defined its season. Wisconsin – ranked second at the time – just got junior goalie Brian Elliott back from a leg injury that sidelined him for seven games and seemed to be peaking at the right time. Thinking the team could pick up right where they left off, the Badgers were swept, out scored 13-7 in the series and had a closed door locker room meeting for well over an hour.

"It was one of those watershed moments," said senior tri-captain Ben Street, the only UW player to play on that team. "As I remember it, it was, ‘What are we going to do for this year? Are we going to make it special or are we going to be content with an average one?' We knew we had the right tools, we didn't want to waste it and that was the turning point."

Fresh off another momentous outdoor victory over another Big Ten rival school (Michigan), Wisconsin (16-7-4, 11-6-3 WCHA) – ranked third in the country – will host those same Minnesota State Mavericks (12-14-2, 6-13-1) that gave them such a boost four years ago.

"We thought we'd be able to pick up right where we left off, and it turned out to be a strong wake-up call," UW coach Mike Eaves said of that 2006 series. "As it turned out, it was the final step forward of our guys to take ownership of the team. It turned out to be a step back and two steps forward."

The Badgers haven't had a series that has been a step back and two steps forward, but there have been plenty of instances where the focus and the foundation has shaken just enough to get the players' attention

Against Minnesota, UW ran into a hot goalie; UW didn't do the things they needed to do to sweep at Colorado College; the Badgers came out in Duluth and presented the things they needed to do, but got behind and never got going and against Minnesota State, UW started slow and shot themselves in the foot with back-to-back major penalties.

"It was a different tail each time," Eaves said. "Each one was a different lesson to be learned."

The schedule says Wisconsin hasn't been swept through 13 weekends this season, but the games listed off by Eaves all have one thing in common – they all cost the Badgers a chance to sweep a series. It's something they realize every time they walk past the conference standings in the locker room, a list that has them in a tie for fourth place, four points behind co-leaders Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State but having played two fewer games.

"It's a constant reminder of where we are at, and that we know we blew some games," Street said. "We know the league is so tight this year that if we do slip up, we might fall right off.

"We just have to stay hungry. After you embarrass a team in their barn, you know they are going to come hungry the next night, that the coach lit a fire under them and we need to grasp the fact that they are coming out insane."

Insane could be the schedule the Badgers just finished navigating. Wisconsin played nine of 11 games against opponents ranked in the top 10, six of which were on the road, and went 6-2-3. Wisconsin is now third in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA Tournament selection process for the 16-team tournament.

One could assume the road would be easier to manage for the Badgers, who finish the season playing three of the bottom seven teams in the conference and get St. Cloud State at home next weekend, but the Mavericks pose an interesting case.

No team in the conference has played or lost more one-goal games than the MSU (10 one-goal games, seven losses) and while the Mavericks are 1-8-1 against the top four teams in the conference, six of those losses have been by one goal. The only win was against Wisconsin, 3-2, in the second week of the conference season.

"They are one of the teams that are pretty physical and like to stir it up," senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion said. "I think there are going to be a lot of penalties, a lot of 4-on-4 hockey this weekend. We just have to keep our emotions down. There's never an easy weekend in the WCHA."

Added Eaves about the changes since these two teams last met: "We know a lot more about ourselves. We understand a little bit better who we are now, and have an understanding that we have improved. We are down the road like we'd hope we be, but we still have a lot to work on and this weekend is an opportunity to take another step."

Four years after the jolt an outdoor game gave Wisconsin, the Badgers are hoping the results are similar, but realize it isn't a given.

"We've got to use the momentum right," Street said. "If we lose that game, a lot of guys would be pretty down. Our spirits are pretty high and we need to keep it that way."

Minnesota State (12-14-2, 6-13-1 WCHA) vs. No.3 Wisconsin (16-7-4, 11-6-3 WCHA)

Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, February 12-13 at 8 p.m. CT

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

Television - FSN Wisconsin. Tape Delayed - Wisconsin Channel

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

Live Blog -

Series – Wisconsin leads 18-14-4 (UW leads 13-4-1 in Madison)

Last Meeting - MSU won, 3-2, on Oct. 24, 2009 in Mankato

Series Notes

The series will mark the 37th and 38th games played all-time between the two schools, and the 19th and 20th in Madison

The Badgers own five series sweeps over MSU, all at home

The UW has won the last three games in the series at the Kohl Center, including a first-round WCHA playoff sweep last March 13-14

Wisconsin enters the weekend after winning the Culver's Camp Randall Hockey Classic with a 3-2 victory over Michigan in front of 55,031 fans outside at Camp Randall Stadium. The victory gave the Badgers the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Museum Game Trophy.

Wisconsin's 3-2 victory last Saturday against Michigan was its ?rst of the season when scoring less than four goals in a game. UW is now 1-6-4 when scoring three goals or less, but has scored four or more goals 17 times and is 16-1-0 in those contests.

The Badgers play their ?rst unranked opponent this weekend since Jan. 2 and just their second unranked opponent since the ?rst weekend of December.

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