Home has always been a gracious and caring place for the Badgers, as Madison has been exceptionally cruel to top-ranked teams.
If you somehow forgot, here are a few reminders: The Wisconsin football team was undefeated at home for the second straight season. Men’s basketball did not lose a single game at home last year and continued that streak through the first four games of this season. Between Nov. 28 and Oct. 16, the women’s hockey team did not only stay undefeated at home (14 games), they didn’t lose a single game (32), tying the NCAA record.
While home has clearly always been friendly for the Badgers, it has also been friendly for the men’s hockey team, which is 7-3-0 at home this season. Three of those wins came against top-five teams as the Badgers swept then-No. 5 North Dakota and split the series with then-No. 1 Minnesota.
For a team that has yet to win on the road, playing at home has certainly been a nice comfort, particularly given the fact that they’ve been able to play so many top-ranked teams at home so far this season.
Following a recent tradition – instilled by the combination of Wisconsin and at-the-time-No. 1 Ohio State in both football and basketball last season as they each upset OSU in Madison 31-18 and 71-67 respectively – men’s hockey split a series with then-No. 1 Minnesota at the Kohl Center in November.
But Madison’s power to upset No. 1 teams will be put to the test again this weekend as No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth rolls into town.
After winning the national championship last season, the Bulldogs did not have a very hot start, but have since climbed their way to the top.
It might sound backward, but Wisconsin could not be facing Minnesota-Duluth at a better time.
The last time the Badgers saw some action was over Thanksgiving weekend when they swept Mercyhurst 5-2 and 7-2.
During the series, UW did not skate with a single veteran forward. Injuries continued to pile up for the Badgers, but a productive series from junior defenseman Justin Schultz and sophomore forward Mark Zengerle helped the Badgers through.
So while the Badgers are still on a confidence high from the sweep over Mercyhurst, the timeliness of facing the Bulldogs now lies in the simple fact that UW has had extra preparation for the reigning national champions.
Wisconsin has had a chance to focus more on its game plan and get a few names back on the roster.
With a week off, the Badgers were able to heal up some of their ailments. The time also allowed head coach Mike Eaves a chance to push his guys that extra bit harder. It’s been reported via @BadgerMHockey that not a single puck was in sight during last Saturday’s practice; all the guys did was skate.
Freshman defender Jake McCabe is expected to be in the lineup after a freak accident on the bench from a skate to the hand left him with a severed ligament and in need of surgery.
Before the injury, McCabe started the season paired with junior defensemen standout Justin Schultz and, at the time, was the lone freshman in the starting lineup.
The Badgers will also be welcoming Sean Little back to the lineup, who will help bring greater experience and depth to the forwards. Regardless, UW still lacks veteran leadership among forwards as juniors Derek Lee and Ryan Little are still hurt.
But Eaves hasn’t been thankful for the time solely for the chance to get some more guys healthy – it also gave him the opportunity to focus his team on itself and grow without a threat of defeat hanging over its head, rather than preparing for another series.
“We pushed each other in practice,” Eaves said in his Monday press conference. “We did a lot of competitive drills. We had high tempo drills. We covered a lot of details, and so I think we walk away from last week from the rink feeling good about ourselves and ready to continue on this week and get ready for Duluth.”
With the combination of their soaring confidence, the undeniable home ice advantage and the extra week to focus on their own game, Wisconsin is very much capable of its third top-five upset this season.
But don’t remind them of that. They’re just looking forward for the chance to play a game again, hoping Madison has just a little more magic in store.
Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. Do you think the Badgers will ever be able to win on the road this season? Or does Madison just have a special power? Let her know at [email protected] or tweet @kellymerickson.