Who: #16 Michigan (13-7-0) at Wisconsin (2-13-3)
Where: The Kohl Center. Madison, Wisconsin
When: 1/23/15, 8:00pm CT, BTN - 1/24/15, 7:00pm CT
Saying that the season has not gone well for the Badgers this year would be an understatement. Most expected a down year, but not anything like this. Still, it would be easy to overlook this team because of their record but the way the second half of the season has started, this team has proven to be a tough out and not a team to look past.
Let's start with the bad. Wisconsin had a horrific start, going 0-8-1 before getting their first win then went a month before getting their second. Between graduation and early departures, Wisconsin lost almost every goal scorer they had and a group of quality defensemen from last season's team. Their incoming class hasn't produced an instant impact freshman at forward and none of the returning players have stepped up as primary scoring options, putting the Badgers in the cellar with 1.78 goals per game.
Grant Besse is the leading goal scorer with 6, Morgan Zulinick has 5 and Jedd Soleway, who interestingly enough was traded during his BCHL years for Michigan freshman Dexter Dancs, has 4.
On the blueline Jack Dougherty is a star in the making, but again they play quite a few freshman and sit at 53rd in team defense allowing 3.61 goals per game. Eddie Wittchow, one of three upperclassmen defensemen on this team, will not play due to a suspension. In net Joel Rumpel is the foundation of this team and one of the better goalies in the country.
Now, since the beginning of January Wisconsin has beaten Michigan Tech, let a game go against BU that they could have won and tied Minnesota. The young core is starting to understand how to play together and they still have Joel Rumpel and the Kohl Center.
Red Berenson always talks about getting a quick start and that especially holds true for this game. Spotting Joel Rumpel and this young Wisconsin team a lead could spell disaster for a Michigan team that must take both games.
The second key is zone entry. On the bigger ice sheet last season in Madison, the Badgers threw the puck in and beat the Wolverines to it on almost every entry. There's enough team speed between the Hyman line, the Motte line and Compher line to win those races, but for all of their shortcomings Wisconsin is still a hard working team.
The goaltending position is still in flux between Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine. Cutler Martin and Mike Chiasson are both dealing with injuries and Michigan can't score 10 goals every game. This is going to be about hard work, limiting mistakes and not taking a team lightly.