There is no time like now.
For the Wisconsin men’s hockey team there is no statement that describes their existing situation more precisely. Alaska-Anchorage makes its yearly appearance in Madison, owning a three-game winning streak at the Kohl Center and within four points of the cardinal and white for the final home series playoff spot in the WCHA.
More interesting however, are the opportunities that face the Badgers. UW (11-12-3, 9-7-2 WCHA) can all but guarantee itself an opening-round WCHA playoff series at the Kohl Center with a sweep of the Seawolves this weekend.
More importantly, with a pair of victories UW could catapult past both Colorado College and Minnesota and find itself with sole possession of the third spot in the WCHA with both teams on the upcoming schedule.
“If we can win two games this weekend we can move up in the standings,” said head coach Jeff Sauer. “[The team is] starting to understand what we have to do to win.”
The Seawolves (7-12-5, 6-10-4 WCHA) arrive in Madison with a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) and have not been home in over a week. After last weekend’s contests versus Minnesota-Duluth, UAA elected to remain in the continental US declining to make the trek back to Anchorage.
The long stint away from home will no doubt take its toll. If that is the case, the home sweep may follow for UW. The Badgers come in limping at the goaltender spot with first-stringer Scott Kabotoff still out with a strained left knee but freshman Bernd Bruckler has filled in nobly receiving the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week award after taking over for Kabotoff against St. Cloud.
“Bernd’s athletic ability and being able to use his glove hand is very, very quick and very impressive,” said Sauer. “On the ice, he’s more animated than the goaltenders we’ve had. He’s a better athlete than [Kabotoff].”
With the combination of Bruckler’s emergence and the awakening of the Badgers’ forwards, anything less than a sweep will be considered a failure. Forward Matt Hussey (13 goals, 11 assists, 24 points) had the Seawolves’ number when UW paid their visit to UAA, netting a pair of goals and handing out an assist, in a series that left Wisconsin with a single point.
Matt Murray used his birthday to propel himself into the ‘G’ column, scoring three times during the SCSU series becoming the hottest offensive player for UW. The team points leader, Brad Winchester (10-15-25), has become UW’s most consistent player at home totaling five goals and six assists in eleven games at the Kohl Center.
Offensively the Badgers’ are finding ways to score, something that eluded them earlier in the season, however, the defensive end has been Wisconsin’s most consistent forte and nothing less will be accepted in this must-sweep-weekend.
Wisconsin is seemingly putting the pieces together at the right time emitting memories of yesteryear when UW was able to put together a late run and make the NCAA playoffs.
“I’ve said all along we want to be playing our best hockey late in the season,” said Sauer. “I will be very disappointed if we are not ready to come out and play mentally this weekend.”
Amid a vicious battle in the WCHA and for the coveted home-ice advantage in the looming playoffs, every point counts, and the Badgers are more than prepared.