After starting out the season 2-0 for the first time since 2004, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team hits the road for a pair of games against Boston’s finest.
The No. 2 Badgers (2-0) will take on No. 7 Boston College (1-1) Friday night before heading to a meeting with No. 15 Boston University (3-0) Saturday. Both are a one-game series showdown of some of hockey’s most successful names, and UW will be eyeing success in its first contests against ranked opponents of the season.
“Road series are a blast. We love traveling together. I think a lot of us look forward to on the roadies,” junior defenseman Jake McCabe said. “Going to two programs that are as competitive as they are, it should be fun.”
Determined to take it one game at a time, UW has solely focused on BC in its preparations this week, knowing it will be facing a faster and more skilled opponent than it has seen thus far.
“Boston College is known for small, chippy, fast forwards. We are focusing on that and finding their key players and taking them away from the puck,” McCabe said. “They have a great squad and a lot of offensively gifted players.”
BC is coming off a 7-2 win over Rennselaer Sunday. All seven of BC’s goals were scored by different players, showing the depth of the team’s strength UW will have to be ready for.
“They are very strong down the middle. They have three seniors in center ice. They have some good size on the defense,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “They have abilities and they like to play at a high tempo. They are going to jump at us and try to take time and space away.”
Yet BC’s defense will face a similarly strong team in Wisconsin. In last Friday night’s matchup alone, 10 Badger players recorded points. Currently leading the team in goals is freshman forward Grant Besse, who scored the game winning goal in a thrilling game two against Northern Michigan Saturday. While the freshman still has a way to go in learning the offensive schemes of his new Badger team, the depth of Wisconsin will pose a huge challenge to BC skaters and goaltender.
Sophomore center Nic Kerdiles is riding a 14-game point streak, starting off the season on a strong foot with a goal and two assists alongside linemates senior Michael Mersch and junior Joseph LaBate. Adding to the depth are seniors Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes, who together have tallied a goal and three assists on the season. While freshman redshirt linemate Morgan Zulinick has yet to earn a point this season, his highly anticipated return after a season-ending injury last year did not go unnoticed last weekend.
While on the depth chart Kerdiles might be listed on the second line, Eaves sees little distinction between the two top lines.
“I would say, and some will say, that we have two first lines and two third lines. I think that’s a pretty good analogy,” Eaves said.
Working on the power play will be a key to Wisconsin’s success come Friday. BC suffered its first loss of the season to UW’s new Big Ten conference foe Michigan on Thursday. In the 3-1 defeat, the Eagles fell victim to the power play, giving up two goals while a man-down.
Wisconsin showed fluctuating strength on the power play last weekend with a strong set of skaters in Barnes, Mersch, Zengerle, Kerdiles and McCabe leading the man-advantage squad. However, Wisconsin scored on just one of 10 power play opportunities against Northern Michigan. Against ranked teams this weekend, UW will need to capitalize on these opportunities if it hopes to return with a pair of wins.
“We have some good personnel on it and we are clicking right away and coach is happy about that,” Kerdiles said. “We all feel confident it’s just going to take some more reps for it to start getting even better.”
Eaves confirmed junior goaltender Landon Peterson will start in net for UW to begin the weekend. Peterson and junior guard Joel Rumpel split the series against NMU, as they did for most of last season before Rumpel earned the starting job come playoff time.
Historically, BC holds a 12-9-0 record over UW, beating the Badgers the last two times the teams faced off at Kelley Rink in 2008 and 2002.
After the game with Boston College, UW will head Agganis Arena to play the Terriers the following night. Boston University is riding a 3-0 start to the season with wins against St. Francis Xavier, Massachusetts and Holy Cross, all within a two-goal margin.
Like BC, the Terriers have a widespread set of scorers that will be called to action against the Badgers.
Giving up just three goals thus far and two coming from power plays, the ability to capitalize on the man-advantage will be equally as important in the second game of the weekend.