The statement has been made. With a tie and a win against then-No. 5 Denver, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team is starting to show what they’re capable of.
Now the Badgers just have to bring it to their home ice — a place that hasn’t been friendly to them this season.
Wisconsin (2-7-3, 2-5-3 WCHA) plays host to Michigan Tech (4-8-1, 3-6-1 WCHA) this weekend as it searches for its first home win the of the season. The players admit it’s strange to be so late in the season, yet winless at home. Friday night has become an essential benchmark.
“Friday is a must win, always,” sophomore goaltender Landon Peterson said. “Got to have that mentality to go 1-0.
“Our team is well-capable of doing that. We’re resilient. We just have to keep fighting through, playing every game strong. It’ll be a huge meter to see where we’re at to come out this weekend and have a great weekend.”
Aiding that must-win mentality is the return of junior forward Mark Zengerle. The standout center has sat out the last four weeks due to a broken left index finger. While head coach Mike Eaves wouldn’t confirm Zengerle’s return to the lineup pending a doctor’s appointment Friday morning, Zengerle said he was more than ready to go.
Lifting up his stick in his left hand and holding it parallel to the ground, the junior center simply said, “This is what they’ll have me do.” With no pain or grimace on his face, Zengerle feels ready to help continue his teams current success.
“The next four games are pretty key, especially this weekend,” Zengerle said. “They’re in our conference and Tech’s right there with us so it would be good if we could get two wins it would be huge. Four points — bump ahead of them pretty well and try to catch some other teams after that. In order for the ship to continue to turn, you have to win this weekend.”
While Michigan Tech isn’t ranked, Wisconsin is currently tied in the conference standing with Tech at seven points apiece. Last time the two teams met, MTU got the better of UW with two overtime wins to sweep the Badgers 2-1 and 3-2 in their second series of the 2011-12 season.
Despite a 1-1 tie and a 3-1 win over Denver last weekend, Wisconsin still rounds out the bottom of the WCHA in total offense with 1.83 goals per game. The Huskies on the other hand are averaging three goals per game, but are giving up an average of 3.77 goals per game — worst in the WCHA.
That average benefits Wisconsin, which has one of the stingiest defenses in the WCHA. Sophomore goaltenders Joel Rumpel and Peterson — who have been splitting time between the pipes — have allowed only an average 2.58 goals, which is fifth in the WCHA by a small margin (an average .71 behind conference leader Minnesota).
The tending duo have each received WCHA defensive player of the week honors — Peterson the most recent after stopping 35 of 36 shots against Denver Saturday night.
“I think it was another indication of how strong they can play,” Eaves said. “I know that if you talk to them, they’ll be the first to compliment their teammates for blocking 35 shots and doing those kinds of things. But it’s another step in showing how well they can play and how much trust we have in them.”
Despite what they have in goal and whether or not the ship may be turning for the Badgers, they are still looking for their third win of the season, much less their first at home.
It’s hard to be the underdog at home, but in most matchups this season that’s how Wisconsin will be viewed given its start. For the skaters who are confident about the team they have this year, the underdog mentality will never be one they possess.
“We don’t look at it that that way because we’re maybe a little more confident than our record looks like, which is probably a good thing,” Zengerle said. “You don’t want to be going out there thinking your going to get a loss. … I think everyone in our room thinks that we’re better than our record stands for, but you always are what your record is … but we think we can beat anyone.”