The Wisconsin Badgers played in the national title game two seasons ago but missed the NCAA tournament last year. UW also fell to 7th in the WCHA after finishing in second place in 2009-10. For Mike Eaves’ squad, the single biggest problem has been early departures. The Badgers have had seven players (forwards Derek Stepan, Jordy Murray, and Craig Smith; and defensemen Cody Goloubef, Brendan Smith, Ryan McDonagh, and Jake Gardiner) give up college eligibility over the last two years.
North Dakota was hit harder than normal during the offseason as well. Sioux forwards Jason Gregoire and Brett Hextall left school early to play professional hockey, and their departures, coupled with a graduated class of seven high end players, left holes up and down the UND lineup. Injuries, particularly up front, have forced the Green and White to play without a full lineup for much of January.
Both of these schools have played well in their last ten games: Wisconsin has gone 7-2-1, while North Dakota is 6-3-1 over that same span. The teams boast similar top lines, with UND having a slight edge in combined power play and penalty kill proficiency.
This series comes down to venue, and which team has home ice. The Badgers have won only won game on the road this season (at MSU-Mankato), while North Dakota is 9-4-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Down the stretch, both teams will struggle to gain home ice for the first round of the playoffs. After this weekend, UW hosts St. Cloud and Denver and travels to Bemidji and Minnesota. UND will host Michigan Tech and Mankato and travel to Duluth and Denver to close out the regular season. It is becoming more and more apparent that North Dakota will have to win at least seven of its last ten WCHA contests to be in position for an NCAA tournament berth in March.
Wisconsin Team Profile
Head Coach: Mike Eaves (10th season at UW, 204-148-44, .571)
Pairwise Ranking: 23rd
National Rankings: NR/NR
This Season: 12-10-2 overall, 7-9-2 WCHA (9th)
Last Season: 21-16-4 overall, 12-13-3 WCHA (7th)
Team Offense: 3.17 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.83 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.6% (25 of 116)
Penalty Kill: 76.3% (74 of 97)
Key Players: Sophomore F Mark Zengerle (10-28-38), Sophomore F Tyler Barnes (8-12-20), Freshman F Joseph LaBate (5-13-18), Junior D Justin Schultz (12-25-37), Sophomore D Frankie Simonelli (3-9-12), Freshman G Joel Rumpel (9-5-2, 2.54 GAA, .920 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (8th season at UND, 200-103-29, .646)
Pairwise Ranking: 19th
National Rankings: #18/NR
This Season: 13-10-2 overall, 9-9-0 WCHA (6th)
Last Season: 32-9-3 overall (NCAA Frozen Four semifinalist), 21-6-1 WCHA (1st)
Team Offense: 2.92 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.80 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.5% (24 of 117)
Penalty Kill: 83.7% (87 of 104)
Key Players: Junior F Danny Kristo (12-15-27) Junior F Corban Knight (8-16-24), Sophomore F Brock Nelson (17-10-27), Freshman D Nick Mattson (5-8-13), Senior D Ben Blood (2-9-11), Junior G Aaron Dell (10-8-2, 2.80 GAA, .895 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 22, 2011 (Madison, WI). North Dakota outshot the Badgers 42-15 but couldn’t solve goaltender Joel Rumpel often enough, falling 5-4 to homestanding Wisconsin. UW won the opener, 5-3.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: December 12, 2009. Wisconsin scored three power play goals and downed North Dakota 4-3 to take three points on the weekend. The teams battled to a 3-3 draw on Friday night. UND had almost 90 seconds of 5 on 3 power play time in the first period and peppered netminder Scott Gudmandson with eight shots on goal but couldn’t get one to go.
Last Ten: The Badgers have had the better of it in recent history, going 6-3-1 (.650) over the last ten tilts.
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, 86-62-11 (.575), and holds a 36-30-8 (.541) edge in games played in Grand Forks.
Game News and Notes
Both head coaches in this weekend’s series notched their 200th career win this season. Wisconsin has two players (forward Mark Zengerle and defenseman Justin Schultz) in the top five of the national scoring race. Over the last twelve games, UND netminders Aaron Dell and Brad Eidsness have combined for an 8-3-1 record, a goals-against average of 2.23, and a save percentage of .917.
This feels like the weekend where UND stops splitting and starts sweeping. It won’t be easy, but North Dakota’s penalty kill will be big both nights. UND 4-2, 4-3.