Preview: Distracting the Distractions

A dismissal, losing a senior captain and indecision in goal - three problems that could rear its ugly head as No.3 Wisconsin takes on Michigan Tech in a critical Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.

HOUGHTON, Mich. – This is the wrong time of the year to have distractions surrounding a team.

In the coming weeks in the college hockey world, regular season races will be won and lost, championships will be won and bids to the 16-team national tournament will be extended. As it sits today, the third-ranked men's hockey team looks prepared to participate in the race for the MacNaughton Cup.

Last Saturday against No.4 St. Cloud State, Wisconsin honored its seven seniors playing in its final regular season home hockey game, and that grouped honored the sellout crowd by registering a goal or an assist in an 7-4 victory over the Huskies, splitting the vital series.

"A poet couldn't write a better script," UW Coach Mike Eaves quipped.

But the good nature has the potential to change, especially with three distinct or potential problems Wisconsin (19-8-4, 14-7-4 WCHA, 31 points) has to deal with as the wind down the regular season, which continues tonight and Saturday against last-place Michigan Tech (5-24-1, 4-20-0, 8 points) at the MacInnes Ice Arena.

The most serious of nature for the Badgers, who could move past idle St. Cloud State into second place with three points this weekend, is having to play without senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion, who reportedly did not make the trip after being knocked out of Saturday's game with a concussion.

It was the second concussion Geoffrion suffered this season and the Badgers are 6-6-3 during Geoffrion's career when he doesn't play. Geoffrion leads the league with 21 goals overall and 19 goals in WCHA games.

"We have a protocol where the kids do a psychological baseline at the beginning of the season," said Eaves, explaining the concussion process. "They have to have no headache, and they have to exercise getting no headache, and then they can go on the ice with no contact. So the protocol is far superior. And when the kids do come back, they're at a place where they can be pretty confident or very confident that they're in good space and there's no risk of that one affecting. As long as they're getting headaches, the body is telling me something, and we're paying attention to that now."

The next problem is the goaltenders, as junior Scott Gudmandson or Brett Bennett have stepped up to the plate and grabbed the reigns of the starting role, thus making Eaves a little concerned.

"It's not where I hoped it would be," he said. "We've seen how well both kids can play. We had hoped that going down the stretch we'd be able to find one young man that would be going real strong here. We still have four games to get that done."

Eaves plans to use both goaltenders against a Tech squad that, after a 15-game winless streak, has won two of the last four and nearly took a couple points at Denver last weekend. If the goalie in the opener plays extremely well, Eaves may reconsider the option.

Bennett is 8-5 with a 2.55 goals against average and 89.5 save percentage. Gudmandson is 11-3-4 with a 2.47 gaa and 90.7 save percentage.

"Maybe we're a two-goaltender team," Eaves said. "Maybe we're a team that needs to alternate with our two young goaltenders because they both can play well. I wish I could speak from a different platform, but that's where we're at right now."

If that wasn't enough, Eaves dismissed sophomore center Matt Thurber from the team after he was suspended indefinitely by the school for violating its student-athlete discipline policy.

According to Madison Police, Thurber was charged with multiple misdemeanors after officers responded to a 911 call alleging a domestic incident involving a woman Feb. 8. Thurber was suspended Feb.9 for violating the policy, and Eaves made the decision to dismiss him last Friday.

Thurber only saw action in nine games this season, accounting for three assists, and only played in 33 games as a freshman, producing two goals and six assists. Even so, it's a distraction a championship team doesn't need to deal with.

No.3 Wisconsin (19-8-4) vs. Michigan Tech (5-24-1)

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday, February 26-27 at 6 p.m. CT

Arena – MacInnes Student Ice Arena - (4,128)- Rink Size - 200 x 85

Television - None

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

Series – UW leads 92-44-8 (30-25-4 in Houghton)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin swept Michigan Tech at the Kohl Center on Dec. 4-5 of this season, 8-2 and 6-0.

Series Notes UW tied and won in its most recent trip to Houghton on Feb. 8-9, 2008. Wisconsin is 6-0-1 over its last seven games against MTU

Former Badger Chris Tok is an assistant coach for Michigan Tech

The last two trips to Houghton, Mich., for the Badgers were extended stays due to weather, with the team's most recent trip for games on Feb. 8-9, 2008, extended by two extra nights due to blizzard conditions.

The Badgers need one point to clinch home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The first round of the playoffs run March 12-14 in a best-of-three format at the home rinks of the top five finishers in the WCHA standings.

The Badgers are one victory away from their fifth 20-win season in eight years under Head Coach Mike Eaves and the 33rd in school history.

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