This weekend, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team will host a rematch series with St. Cloud State, a team that delivered the Badgers’ worst loss of the season – a 7-2 decision in November.
But the Badgers rallied in game two to tie 3-3.
According to freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel, the Badgers picked up an extra dose of confidence despite the ups and downs of that series.
“I think we need to review what we did good [in game two], what we did bad. It was a close one in overtime there, but I think this weekend we can face them a little stronger [than last time],” Rumpel said. “[The first series] definitely gives us a little more confidence going into the weekend. You kind of know how they are going to play, what they are going to bring at you. There isn’t too many new surprises coming your way, so confidence is the biggest thing; it helps.”
The series marks the first of two consecutive home sets for the Badgers as they try to position themselves among the top six teams in the WCHA in order to earn home ice advantage in the first round of the conference playoffs. They currently sit at ninth place.
After having won five of six games leading into the Jan. 27 matchup at North Dakota, the Badgers were swept by UND.
“The lesson that was made available to us last week was the fact that we didn’t do a very good job in the offensive zone in terms of getting offensive rebounds and spending time in their zone,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “We didn’t create enough offense. That has been a point of emphasis this week, so hopefully we learned our lesson and we’re a better team in that area because that in and of itself will help us win. It’s not a big picture thing; it’s taking care of the details within the game, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Now UW will look to return to the comfier confines of home where it sports an 11-4-1 record, as opposed to a dismal 1-8-1 road record.
“This year, we have fared a little stronger when we’re at home opposed to on the road, so it will be nice to get these four games all at the Kohl Center in front of our fans and hopefully get a little momentum, get on a run and hopefully take it with us on the road,” Rumpel said.
One area the Badgers will look to improve upon since the last meeting and on the season in general will be its special teams play on the power play and penalty kill. On the season, the Badgers are converting just 21.1 percent of their power play opportunities and killing opponents’ chances at a 75.5 percent clip.
In the last series against St. Cloud State, Wisconsin’s numbers were even worse, converting just 2-of-11 (.182) power play chances.
“Special teams, both PP and PK, we are going to have to do a better job on both of those,” UW points leader Mark Zengerle said. “Especially the PK, we have to shut that down. We are trying to get more offense sustained; more than just goals, but sustaining offense, getting more shots, more opportunities – which will lead to more goals.”
One bright spot for the Badgers in their trip to St. Cloud was the play of freshman forward Matt Paape who had arguably his best series of the season, scoring three points on the weekend, including a goal in each game.
Strong play from role players like Paape in Friday and Saturday’s games would go a long way in helping the Badgers ascend the conference ladder.
“You have to feel good about that, knowing that you played well against these guys, but as a team we didn’t get too many points when we went up there. We have to take advantage of home ice here, playing in our own barn,” Paape said. “Right now we’re at a situation in the season where every point matters, so we just have to take one night at a time and do what we can.”
With just eight games remaining in the regular season and the last four on the road, the two games against St. Cloud State are critical for the Badgers’ stretch run to postseason, and the sense of urgency is definitely not lost on anyone.
“We are going into this series as two must-wins,” Zengerle said. “We want to get four points, and our goal is to get home ice [in the first round of the WCHA playoffs]. It’s kind of a long shot right now, but it’s still a shot. If there is any opportunity to get that, we have to get four this weekend.”