The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team (8-15-3, 5-10-1-1 Big Ten) returns home to the Kohl Center to host to Big Ten rival, fourth-ranked Michigan (19-7-1, 10-6-0 Big Ten).

Last weekend, the Badgers were swept by Penn State on the road in State College. It was an ugly weekend for Wisconsin, getting outscored 11 to 3 across the two games.

Sophomore goalie Cameron Rowe saw his first game action in nearly two months as he came on in relief of Jared Moe who struggled in both games. Nothing went well for Wisconsin last weekend, and it is important to sweep it under the rug and start fresh for a loaded Michigan squad this weekend.

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Know Your Foe

Michigan visits Madison coming in off a weekend split on the road against Minnesota. The Wolverines had won four games in a row before dropping game one against the Gophers. But, they regained form in game two with a dominant 4-1 win to seal a series split. 

The difference between this weekend and last is significant for Michigan. They will be without their two Olympians, superstar sophomore and number one overall pick Owen Power and their leading assist man, Kent Johnson. The two stars joined Team Canada this week and are on the way to Beijing to represent their country in the upcoming Olympics.  

Even with the loss of these two studs, Michigan is nowhere near short on talent. They are arguably the most skilled team in the country in all phases. The Maize and Blue are led offensively by Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson. The two future NHLers have scored 16 and 17 goals that rank them seventh and fourth in the nation respectively.

But the talent does not stop there. Thomas Bordeleau is yet another NHL draft pick, whose 22 points rank him fifth on the team, and Michael Pastujov is a fifth-year alternate captain who has compiled 33 goals in his time in Ann Arbor.

On the blue line, Luke Hughes is a former number four overall pick, and the brother of NHL superstars Quinn and Jack Hughes. Also on the back end is senior team captain, Nick Blakenburg. Blankenburg has 10 goals on the season to lead the Michigan defenders in goals.

In net for Michigan is Swedish sophomore Erik Portillo. Portillo has started every game this year for the Wolverines, and he has made the most of his opportunity with a 2.25 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

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What to Watch For

Strength vs Strength- Michigan’s offense is one of the best in the nation. Their 101 goals rank them third in the country, and their powerplay percentage of 24.5% also ranks them top ten. On the other end, Wisconsin’s defense and goaltending has been one of their strengths this season.

It will be interesting to see who gets the net this weekend. While it will most likely be Jared Moe, I would not be surprised to see more Cameron Rowe this weekend after he played some quality minutes against Penn State.

While Michigan’s offense certainly has an advantage over Wisconsin’s back end, the Wolverines playing without Owen Power and Kent Johnson is a significant boost for the Badgers.

Crease Creatures-  For the first time since December 11, Wisconsin will have full support from its students. Fresh off a rebrand and with a t-shirt giveaway on deck, the student section will be in full force this weekend as Wisconsin tries to pull a stunning upset.

The Crease Creatures have routinely made the Kohl Center one of the toughest places to play in all of college hockey, and this is a perfect weekend for their return.

Mathieu De St. Phalle- De St. Phalle is finally rolling into the form that Badger fans expected when he arrived on campus. The sophomore is a former scoring leader in the USHL, but he struggled with his offensive game in his first year and a half with the Badgers.

But, lately, De St. Phalle is proving to everyone what made him such a highly-touted prospect. He has points in nine of his last ten games, including the last four straight. He has mixed in six goals over those last 10 games and has taken the team goal scoring lead away from Brock Caufield.

Mathieu De St. Phalle has been fantastic over the last month, and his offense will be much needed this weekend against a talented Michigan squad.

Predictions

Friday: 4-3 Michigan

Saturday: 6-2 Michigan

Ultimately, this Michigan team is just too good for a struggling Wisconsin group. In game one, I think the Badgers might start early behind the raucous crowd and take advantage of the new lines Michigan will be forced to play without Owen Power or Kent Johnson. But ultimately, the more talented team will prevail and dominate this series.