Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Top-ranked Duluth next for Wisconsin

After last weekend’s losses to North Dakota, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said the team would keep moving forward – and if players didn’t move along with, they would be left behind.

So entering this weekend’s matchup with No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (9-1-2, 6-1-1 WCHA), it’s a little more clear who has moved with the team and who needs a gut check.

Eaves shuffled his lines pretty substantially, moving assistant captain Craig Smith between Derek Lee and Michael Mersch. Smith’s usual linemates, Jordy Murray and Mark Zengerle, are joined by Tyler Barnes, putting two freshmen on UW’s top line.


Also entering the lineup is freshman Sean Little, younger brother of UW regular Ryan Little. The younger Little’s insertion helped Eaves make a point.

“He’ll bring a level of competition. That’s the whole message the whole week, we need to compete before we do anything else,” Eaves said.

Wisconsin (6-4-2, 3-3-2 WCHA) looked less than competitive against North Dakota, being outplayed and outworked for most of the two games against the Sioux. The advantage UND had in experience was evident on the ice against a young UW squad that was exposed a bit in the 1-0 and 4-2 losses.

But while the Sioux are the preseason favorite to win the WCHA, it’s the Bulldogs that are in first place with 13 points. While UND and UMD are the top two teams in the conference, they aren’t necessarily similar teams.

“[UMD is] way different than NoDak also; they’re more skilled, but we don’t think they work as hard,” Murray said. “We watched a lot of video on them this week, and we broke down their game. If we outwork them – which is what we plan to do – and get after their D and get after their smaller forwards. We match up good against these guys.”

The obvious hurdle in matching up against Minnesota-Duluth will be its top line of Justin Fontaine, Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly. The three are atop the WCHA points leaderboard and have a combined 20 goals and 32 assists between them.

Even last year, with an experienced and talented team, the Badgers couldn’t keep the Bulldogs’ big three off the scoreboard in both games of their series.

“All three are really good players,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “But I think we’ve got guys in the dressing room that can handle them.”

It’s still a tall task to shut down the three, who have helped UMD to the No. 4 scoring offense in the country (4.00 goals per game). Wisconsin dropped to ninth after last weekend, averaging 3.75 goals per game – but it’s only November, and UMD has just three more goals than Wisconsin and the two teams have played the same number of games.

Defensively, Wisconsin is still tied for third in scoring defense, giving up 1.92 goals per game to Minnesota-Duluth’s 2.33.

The focus, though, will still be on both teams’ offenses. UW was contained easily by UND last week, managing just 16 shots on goal each game. The offensive philosophy isn’t different, though, just the effort.

“We just have to play our game and those chances are going to come; we just have to make the best of them when they do come,” Schultz said. “That’s something we’re not going to try and worry about.”

“[We did] a lot of hard work in practice this week, doing battle drills, getting dirty in the areas near the net and by the crease,” Mersch said.

Provided the Badgers’ week of practice pays off in the games, there’s still one more hurdle to leap: overcoming slow starts.

Aside from the home opener against Alabama-Huntsville, the first period has not been kind to the Badgers at the Kohl Center. Against Michigan Tech, Wisconsin gave up the first goal in both games, and had to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the opening game of that series.

The lack of jump against North Dakota was distressingly evident throughout both games, but early on especially.

“If you look at our past home series, we haven’t had the greatest start in either the first or the second game,” Murray said.

But why?

“I don’t know,” he went on. “Maybe it has to do with we’re a younger team and we want to do so well in front of our fans. Maybe a little extra pressure that’s unnecessary.”

For a team that grew every week with the exception of last, this is another potential crossroads. A good showing against the nation’s top team would be evidence of improvement; another demoralizing sweep could be a big blow to the young squad’s confidence.

“I think this will show us where we’re at as a team right now,” Mersch said.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *