Despite better and more consistent play over the past two weekends, North Dakota is still struggling to find victories and finds itself in a precarious position for the NCAA tournament with Wisconsin coming to town.

Sound familiar? It’s the same story as last season. Almost exactly one year ago, UND managed no better than splits against Minnesota and St. Cloud State and needed wins against the Badgers. The Green and White swept Bucky out of the Ralph and went 12-3-1 the rest of the way, earning home ice for the playoffs, claiming the Broadmoor trophy, and making the NCAA West Regional final.

This season, Dave Hakstol’s club has struggled to find victories over the past couple of weekends, earning only a pair of ties and two losses against Minnesota and St. Cloud State. UW comes to town white-hot, with a 10-1-3 mark in the past 14 games, the same 14 games that freshman phenom Nic Kerdiles has been in the lineup.

The teams are tied for fourth in the WCHA race, but North Dakota’s picture nationally looks a little brighter than Wisconsin’s: UW is currently 23rd in the Pairwise rankings, while UND sits in 10th.

Mike Eave’s squad boasts a pair of netminders with sub-2.00 goals-against averages, and his team is allowing exactly two goals per game for the season. The struggle for Bucky has been scoring, particularly on the power play. If the two teams earn the same number of man-advantage opportunities, that situation would favor North Dakota.

For Dave Hakstol, freshman goaltender Zane Gothberg has worked his way into a rotation with Clarke Saunders. As a freshman for Alabama-Huntsville, Saunders faced the Badgers twice, and his line is not very impressive: 0-2-0, 6.73 GAA, .821 SV%. It is fair to say that the junior transfer has a different team in front of him this time around.

On the injury front, Wisconsin will be without the services of senior forward Derek Lee, who is still suffering from the effects of a concussion. Lee is second on the team in scoring with 19 points. North Dakota is healthy up and down the lineup, and appears to have more scoring depth than the Badgers.

Wisconsin Team Profile

Head Coach: Mike Eaves (11th season at UW, 220-164-49, .565)
Pairwise Ranking: 23rd
National Ranking: #19
This Season: 11-8-5 overall, 8-5-5 WCHA (t-4th)
Last Season: 17-18-2 overall, 11-15-2 WCHA (10th)

Team Offense: 2.33 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 11.4% (8 of 70)
Penalty Kill: 82.4% (70 of 85)

Key Players: Junior F Michael Mersch (15-6-21), Junior F Mark Zengerle (4-9-13), Freshman F Nic Kerdiles (3-7-10 in 14 games), Sophomore D Jake McCabe (2-8-10), Senior D John Ramage (4-3-7), Sophomore G Joel Rumpel (6-6-3, 1.85 GAA, .930 SV%, 3 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (9th season at UND, 226-114-35, .649)
Pairwise Ranking: 10th
National Ranking: #7
This Season: 13-8-5 overall, 8-5-5 WCHA (t-4th)
Last Season: 26-13-3 overall (NCAA West Regional Finalist), 16-11-1 WCHA (4th)

Team Offense: 3.23 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.65 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.2% (21 of 99)
Penalty Kill: 82.3% (79 of 96)

Key Players: Senior F Corban Knight (12-23-35), Senior F Danny Kristo (15-18-33), Sophomore F Mark MacMillan (8-9-17), Freshman F Rocco Grimaldi (9-11-20), Junior D Derek Forbort (4-8-12), Sophomore D Dillon SImpson (2-12-14), Junior G Clarke Saunders (10-5-4, 2.34 GAA, .914 SV%, 2 SO)

By The Numbers

Last Meeting: January 28, 2012 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota rode a strong third period to a 4-2 victory and a series sweep over the visiting Badgers. Wisconsin had swept UND earlier in the year at the Kohl Center. Both Danny Kristo and Brock Nelson had four point weekends for the Green and White.

Most Important Meeting: March 27, 1982. A 2-2 tie after two periods turns into a 5-2 Sioux victory, as Phil Sykes nets a hat trick and leads UND to its fourth National Championship.

All-time Series: Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 86-64-11 (.568), and holds a 36-32-8 (.526) edge in games played in Grand Forks.

Last Ten: The Badgers have had slightly the better of it in the last ten contests, going 5-4-1 (.550) in that stretch. UND has won four of the last six, outscoring Bucky 21-17.

Game News and Notes

Despite coaching for two fewer seasons than his counterpart on the UW bench, North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol has collected six more victories than Mike Eaves. Remarkably, Wisconsin has lost just once in ten road games (6-1-3). UND senior forward Danny Kristo has ten points in eight career games against the Badgers, including two goals and two assists in a home sweep last season.

The Prediction

Call it a hunch, but it’s February now and this feels like the weekend where UND’s effort translates to goals and victories. It won’t be easy, but North Dakota’s power play and penalty kill will lead the way. UND 2-0, 3-2.