UW hopes lightning strikes twice

first_imgAs defending national champions, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team has been, well, somewhat of an average team this season. A few highs here, a few lows there, but nothing too spectacular along the way.This is especially true in terms of the Badgers’ series in the 2006-07 campaign. Out of 12 two-game sets this year, Wisconsin has won three, lost three, and split six series.What’s more, the Badgers are holding down sixth place in the ten-team WCHA, which has designated them the first team out of the national poll (a handful of votes behind No. 20 Quinnipiac). UW currently sits on the bubble of USCHO.com’s pairwise rankings, just outside the top 16 that will qualify for the NCAA tournament.Whether this is caused by losing too many good players to graduation, a letdown from winning it all last April, or running into too much talent in the early part of this season — 17 out of their 24 games thus far have been against ranked teams — it’s impossible to tell. All the Badgers know is that, after getting last weekend off, they begin a six-week stretch tonight; 12 more games that will go a long way in determining how the postseason will shake out for Mike Eaves’ boys.Wisconsin (10-12-2, 7-8-1 WCHA) has a great chance this weekend to buck the trend of splitting series, as it plays host to ninth-place Minnesota State-Mankato Friday and Saturday nights at the Kohl Center. The Mavericks (8-14-4, 5-10-3) could be just what the doctor ordered for Wisconsin’s downtrodden offense (91 goals allowed in 26 games, second-most in the conference).While senior defenseman Jeff Likens and the Badgers are relieved to be facing some unranked teams at this point in the season — just four of their remaining 12 games involve ranked opponents — they know to be wary against a hard-working Minnesota State team that recently took three out of four series points from No. 4 St. Cloud State.”These guys might not be up there as far as the rankings go, but they work hard,” Likens said. “It’s definitely going to be a hard battle this weekend. They may not have the [No. 1 ranked] skill, but they’re going to have the work ethic of a No. 1 team in the nation.”After sweeping North Dakota on the road in December, senior forward Jake Dowell expressed the importance of winning games on back-to-back nights, considering that’s what is required of teams in the WCHA and national tournaments. With teams like Minnesota and Denver no longer in front of UW, he feels Wisconsin has an opportunity to make a late-season push.”The stretch kind of began playing those real tough teams, Minnesota and Denver, and the fact that we were able to play well against them, we thought we could have come out (of) both those series with sweeps,” Dowell said. “Now, we go in and play a team like this that’s going to give you everything they’ve got every night.”According to head coach Mike Eaves, stopping Minnesota State begins and ends with neutralizing Maverick senior forward Travis Morin, who, with 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists), enters this weekend as the No. 3 point scorer in the conference.”He’s their offensive key, and if he has a good weekend, they’ll be successful,” Eaves said. “If we can limit him, then probably we’ll be successful.”For Wisconsin, playing Minnesota State has certain other significance in reference to its championship series. In a late February series, the Badgers left Mankato after giving up 13 goals and getting swept by the Mavericks 6-4 and 7-3. The disastrous weekend prompted a closed-door, players-only meeting, which apparently worked; Wisconsin went on to win nine of their next ten games, capped by that 2-1 championship victory over Boston College.”The biggest thing was holding ourselves accountable,” Likens said. “We talked about how it’s got to come within — we can’t have Coach coming up and snapping [at us] every couple minutes. As players, we’ve got to have trust in each other — that was a big thing that came out of the meeting.”While the Badgers hope to not relive last season’s drubbing at Mankato this weekend at the Kohl Center, it’s that kind of late-season effort and chemistry that could make what has been largely an unspectacular season a whole lot better.Dowell explained how this weekend, which brings the matchup of a gritty Mankato team, could prove the perfect example of how Wisconsin needs to play the remainder of this conference season.”They’re going to play hard, and we have to match their heart,” Dowell said. “That’s the way we need to play the whole rest of the season, so we’re playing great hockey at the end of the year. That’s exactly how we need to be playing.”last_img

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