The Kohl Center will host a legendary rivalry when the Wisconsin men’s hockey team takes on No. 1 Minnesota this weekend.
Coming off a road loss and tie against Michigan, the Badgers (14-8-2 overall, 5-3-1-0 Big Ten) hope to re-establish a winning streak beginning this Thursday. Wisconsin has only one win on the road with a record of 1-6-1. With only four games left to play at home out of the 10 remaining before the Big Ten Tournament, the Badgers will need to step up their away game.
In a press conference Monday, head coach Mike Eaves was happy with the improvement from Friday to Saturday, citing “an adjustment period” was needed after “not playing on the road for a couple months.”
This week, however, the Badgers have a break from the road, hosting the Gophers (19-2-5, 8-0-2) in the team’s second meeting of the year. Although Minnesota swept Wisconsin in series at Minnesota early on in the season, the Badgers are a much better team at home with a record of 13-2-1.
Discussing the past performance against Minnesota, Eaves compared his team to a “roast cooking in the oven” that is now “well-seasoned” to take on Minnesota. He went on to note the Badgers are “a better team now, but so are [the Gophers].”
Alternatively, Minnesota (19-2-5, 8-0-2 Big Ten) will be looking to continue their 14-game unbeaten streak, having won or tied every game since late November. The Gophers’ latest series came against Michigan State this past weekend, resulting in a 2-2 tie and 1-0 win for the Gophers. The matchup with Minnesota will be a tall task for the Badgers in what has been a very heated border battle over the years.
Ninth-ranked Wisconsin will be assisted in their attempt to end the streak of the top-ranked Minnesota by the hopeful return of sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles. Kerdiles sustained a shoulder injury against Alaska-Anchorage, resulting in his absence from the Badgers last six games.
Regarding Kerdiles’ return, Eaves seemed hopeful, saying Kerdiles will practice this week in “regular color where he’ll be bumping more regularly” to “be ready to go this weekend.”
However, Eaves will not gain all his injured players back, stating Tyler Barnes is “less likely to play.”
Barnes will be a notable absence on the ice, as one of the top scorers on the Badger team. His 10 goals and 11 assists on the season, among his contributions, will open a hole in the offensive attack that will have to be filled.
The Badgers will need to bring their best defense against the Gophers who average 3.7 goals per game. That will put the spotlight on UW goaltender Joel Rumpel who will be tasked with shutting down a Minnesota offense averaging 35.5 shots on goal per game.
Eaves seems very confident in Rumpel’s play, however, calling him the “number one guy because of his attention to detail and his consistent play.”
Looking forward to this week, Eaves said he is impressed and not taking for granted the younger Minnesota team, noting a “little dog can bite you in the fanny as much as old dogs.”
The Badgers and Gophers will take to the ice Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., while the puck will drop at 8 p.m. Friday for game two.