Wisconsin squares off with rival North Dakota

first_imgThe Wisconsin men’s hockey team travels to the far north to battle the No. 5 Fighting Sioux of North Dakota this weekend. The ninth-ranked Badgers (4-1-1, 3-0-1 WCHA) have struggled at North Dakota (5-2-1, 1-1-0) as of late, going 0-4-1 in their last five games in Grand Forks, last winning on Oct. 26, 2001.The Badgers looked like they were on pace to get their first win in three and a half years last February. A goal early in the game was waved off, however, and the Badgers went on to tie the Fighting Sioux.”Last year, we lost 3-2 and we tied 1-1 in a game we felt we could have won. There was a disallowed goal, but we played well enough to win,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.To prepare for the small ice surface at North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena, the Badgers have been practicing at the Dane County Coliseum and the Shell this week, both of which have smaller sheets of ice.The Badgers have played their last six games on large ice surfaces, and will have to adjust to a game where space is limited and things move a lot faster.”We’re doing all the same drills, it’s just a tighter space, so guys just naturally have to get quicker and move it better,” sophomore forward Joe Pavelski said. “You just stress it more, keep your feet moving, play at a higher tempo and just get ready for it.”Not only will the Badgers have to move more quickly on a small sheet of ice, but any offense they accumulate will come against the hottest goalie in the WCHA right now. Fighting Sioux goaltender Jordan Parise has warded off opponents’ shots with the best of them this year, leading the conference with a 1.18 goals against average and a .960 save percentage.”You just know you’re going to have to put a lot of pucks at him and get to him,” Pavelski said of the UND net minder. “If we can get a few past him, we can keep rolling.”The rest of the Fighting Sioux squad is relatively inexperienced, with 13 freshmen on the roster, many of them forwards. Four significant defensemen from last year are gone from the team, and junior blue-liner Robbie Bina is sitting out the season because of injury.Despite their youth, North Dakota’s freshmen have stepped up to the challenge, and they have even taken the offensive reigns. Three of UND’s top four scorers are freshmen, with T.J. Oshie and Jonathan Toews leading the way for the whole team.Oshie and Toews are also first and third in the WCHA, respectively, in freshman scoring, followed closely by UND defenseman Brian Lee at fourth.”You could say that we’re a more veteran team and that they’re a young team, but the way they’re playing, they’re beating good teams, they’re playing well and their offense is doing well,” senior defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior or a freshman if your team is playing well.”Those freshmen forwards haven’t seen a defense like that of the Badgers, however. Led by players like Gilbert and sophomore Joe Piskula, Wisconsin leads the WCHA in team defense, allowing only 1.5 goals per game, also good for fifth in the country. Gilbert is also third on the team in scoring, with six points so far.Wisconsin is also first in the WCHA with regard to killing penalties. The Badgers have stopped 88.9 percent of opponents’ power plays.”Our penalty kill has been the same guys the last two years, and we just work really well together,” Gilbert said. “We work hard at it, you know, we take pride in our penalty kill because in this league power play is crucial.”On offense, Wisconsin will look to keep the ball rolling against UND. Last weekend the Badgers got their offense on track with 11 goals against Alaska-Anchorage in their series sweep. In a year the Badgers expected an upswing in offense. They finally got that burst.”We were talking in the first four games how we hadn’t found our rhythm or flow yet offensively, and obviously, the numbers speak for themselves that we found some of that,” Eaves said.This weekend will be the first true test of the Badgers’ position in the WCHA. Should they come away with this trying road trip with at least two points, it can be seen as a victory for Wisconsin. To do so, they will have to adjust quickly to the small ice and prepare for a physical series.”I think that we match up pretty well. Their penalty killing is very good, and it’ll be a test for us,” Eaves said. “If we move the puck, and we know what we’re going to do with it before we get it, we can be successful.”last_img

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