The Badgers play host to the Merrimack Warriors Friday and Saturday night at the Kohl Center after coming off a one week hiatus from play.
The Badgers face a Merrimack team (4-5-3) who sits in one of toughest conferences in the country, the Hockey East. The eastern conference is home to three of the top 10 teams in the nation, including No. 3 Boston College, who the Warriors tied six games into the season.
“They’re gonna work, I know that,” Granato said about the upcoming opponent. “They played BC really well, frustrated them with tight defensive play, patience in the neutral zone, and like I said, heavy on the fore-check.”
The Warriors have struggled on the road this far (0-3-2), opening the door for the Badgers to look to take their first home sweep of the season.
Wisconsin will return key leader and offensive weapon Grant Besse, who went down hard on the boards in the first matchup against Northern Michigan University. With 1.43 points per game (12th in the country), Besse has been a full-go in practice all week and should contribute mightily this weekend.
In the first matchup of the Northern Michigan series, UW goaltender Matt Jurusik struggled in letting four scores go by him in the first two periods, which prompted head coach Tony Granato to turn to freshman Jack Berry.
Berry shut down all six of the shots he faced, and earned the starting job the next night where he pitched a 22-save shutout in the Badgers’ 2-0 victory. The freshman has not allowed a goal in the more than 116 total minutes he’s been on the ice, giving him the best start by a goaltender in Badger history.
Granato said the switch was warranted by the domino effect in his squad’s momentum that Berry created with his defensive boost from the net.
“When Matty didn’t have a couple good games and he’s able to come in and settle your team down, you’re gaining confidence in him and the players that are playing in front of him are gaining confidence as well,” Granato said.
Despite the swap in the net, the Badgers have been solid all over the ice especially when it comes to the special teams units. Wisconsin ranks among the top 10 in the nation on both the power play (tied for seventh) and the power kill (eighth), a feat that only Big Ten opponent Michigan has replicated this season.
Granato spoke to the depth of his special teams unit and the productivity across the board.
“Not many teams I don’t think have the good fortune of having two units that are that close to each other and that good,” Granato said.
The Badgers hope to build momentum with a pair of home wins as they head to Colorado next week to take on Colorado College before their matchup with No. 1 University of Denver.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday night as Wisconsin takes on the Warriors at the Kohl Center.