A battle for momentum will take center ice this weekend when the 19th-ranked Wisconsin men’s hockey team faces off against Western Collegiate Hockey Association foe Bemidji State.
The Badgers (11-9-6, 8-6-6 WCHA) will be looking to regain confidence after their 11-game unbeaten streak in conference play that was snapped last Saturday in a bitter 4-1 loss to North Dakota.
Opposing them will be a Bemidji State team desperate to find a spark amid a disappointing season. The Beavers (5-16-5, 4-12-4 WCHA) have been dealing with their own streak but one comprised of winless weekends dating back to Dec. 15.
Wisconsin proved they were better than their 1-7-2 start to the season by turning their play around and stringing together an impressive 10 wins and three ties in the 14 games leading up to last weekend’s series against the Sioux. UW will storm the ice ready to show Saturday’s loss was nothing more than a bump in the road.
“We are a little bit upset about losing to North Dakota this past weekend, but I think everyone is happy and still in good spirits right now,” freshman forward Nic Kerdiles said. “We are doing good right now, we have a great record and are excited to play Bemidji this weekend … it’s huge the points that are up for grabs so hopefully we can get all of them.”
Heading into this weekend’s series, the Badgers — with 22 points — find themselves in sixth place in the WCHA and just two points back from a three-team tie for third place at 24 points.
The conference remains extremely competitive with the top seven teams being separated by just eight points. So while the four points up for grabs this weekend may seem minimal, senior defenseman and captain John Ramage knows the importance of a single point for his team in the WCHA.
“The WCHA is so close right now anything could happen,” Ramage said. “This is definitely a weekend for us to get some points, it’s going to be a tough weekend but we need these four points.”
History fares well for Wisconsin. The two teams have faced off four times in the past two years, and UW has found its way to victory each time. Yet those wins have not come easy, as all four of those games were decided by two goals or less.
This season, the Beavers have averaged an even two goals per game and find scoring dispersed across their offensive lines. Senior forward Aaron McLeod leads the team in goals, with 10 on the season.
Conversely, Wisconsin has found scoring primarily from one star, junior forward Michael Mersch, who has netted 16 for UW, accounting for 27.5 percent of the team’s scores this season.
The advantage Wisconsin has heading into the series will be a combination of strength and familiarity. And after being on the road for two consecutive weekends, the Badgers are eager to be back playing on their home ice.
“We have a lot of speed on this team and we know this building pretty well, so using our speed and our strengths on this ice surface will be huge for this weekend,” Kerdiles said.
However, injuries on both ends of the ice may pose a key challenge for Wisconsin.
Sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe suffered a right ankle injury in the final period against North Dakota Saturday. At his Monday press conference, head coach Mike Eaves said it was questionable whether McCabe or senior forward Derek Lee would be seeing any ice time against Bemidji State.
Lee has been sidelined due to a concussion suffered on Jan. 26 against Alaska-Anchorage. The center has been a critical playmaker for the Badgers’ offense this season, leading the team with 16 assists and posting the second highest point total behind Mersch with 19.
With Lee’s presence on the ice unknown, Kerdiles and the rest of the Badgers are ready to take over that playmaking role against the Beavers.
“Obviously Lee is a huge part of the team and has got a lot of points this year and comes hard to play every game,” Kerdiles said. “It’s going to be tough not having him if he’s not playing, and we have a lot of ground to make up point-wise. But everyone is excited to go out there and put up those points.”
In celebrating the 50th year in the Modern Era of Wisconsin Hockey, members of the 1983 National Championship team will be honored during Friday’s matchup. Both Friday and Saturday’s games are set to begin at 7 p.m. at the Kohl Center.