HATE HATE HATE HATE HATE. There is nothing finer than a rivalry win. Well, multiple rivalry wins in the same 4 day stretch would certainly suffice. But before we get to talking hockey...
What? I had to.
Okay, time to set the hoopty ball win aside and start talking about the Pride On Ice's trip to Madison/Chicago. To get us a little more insight into our opponent I sent Andy Johnson (@AndyJohnsonB5Q), the resident hockey mind of recently depressed blog Bucky's 5th Quarter, some questions. Let's see what he has to say.
The Daily Gopher: Obviously the big story about this weekend is the game at Soldier Field. How do you feel about Wisconsin giving up home ice to play a WCHA game (a rivalry matchup no less) outside? Are you a fan of outdoor hockey in general?
Andy Johnson: I'll answer the second part first. Yes I'm a fan of outdoor hockey, but only when it's done right. I wouldn't do some cheesy game in front of 15,000 fans, but a spectacle at Soldier Field in front of over 50,000? That's something that I'd be interested in.
As for Wisconsin giving up the home game for this to happen, obviously a lot of season ticket holders that only have Saturday tickets were upset. That's understandable, when you order season tickets you expect to see Minnesota in your barn. Outside of that though, I have no qualms about it. This should be a great event and I'm truly looking forward to the weekend.
TDG: Currently Wisconsin is on the outside looking in when it comes to making it to the NCAA tournament (tied for 20th in the Pairwise). And looking at the analysis that the Western College Hockey Blog has done about each team's remaining schedule shows Wisconsin having the toughest end to the conference slate (facing the Gophers, UNO, and SCSU). Given all that, what do you think Wisconsin's chances of making the NCAA tournament look like? Based on everything you've seen this season, would missing the NCAA tournament be considered a disappointment for this team?
AJ: Wisconsin is looking at its strength of schedule as a virtue in terms of the NCAA tournament right now. The Badgers need to make up ground in the TUC category of the PWR, and facing three opponents who are TUC's to end the season is just the opportunity Wisconsin needs.
The Badgers are 11-2-5 over their past 18 games. Obviously if that trend continues, they've got a chance. Like you said they're playing great teams, so it's easier said than done, but they just need to keep winning hockey games.
If they do end up missing the tournament there are going to be some big time questions in Madison. While Mike Eaves has been to the mountain top before, winning an NCAA title in 2006 and a runner up in 2010, there has been far too much inconsistency between successful seasons.
TDG: Obviously this is the last series between our schools as members of the WCHA. How do you feel about the move to a B1G hockey conference? What things do you think you will like/hate the most about being part of B1G hockey? And what will you miss most about the WCHA?
AJ: I'm one of the few long-time WCHA supporters who are actually looking forward to the move. College hockey is in a bit of a stagnant phase, and this move may be what it takes to give the sport more national recognition. The Big Ten is a notable brand that can be marketed if done properly (ED NOTE: Andy clearly has more faith in the B1G then many of us).
I think what I hate about the Big Ten is what I'm going to miss with the WCHA, and that's the rivalries that have been built. While Wisconsin has a scheduling agreement with teams like North Dakota, Denver, and Colorado College, it's going to be disappointing not to see the UMD's, and St. Cloud's on your schedule every season. Additionally, the year-end Final Five tournament has been an annual tradition for me since I was about 15 years old. So it's a little bittersweet.
TDG: Wisconsin tore through the months of December and January on a hot streak, going 10-1-3 (with the only loss coming to a highly ranked Miami team). Since entering February though the Badgers seem like they might have cooled a little. Has something changed? Or is it as simple as having to go on the road to play a tough series in Grand Forks plus an off night at home against BSU?
AJ: You're correct in your analysis that Wisconsin hasn't played well over at least its past three contests. Friday night in Grand Forks they actually played very well in a 1-0 tie. Obviously the Ralph is a tough place to play and the Badgers didn't come to play in game two.
As for last weekend against Bemidji, I actually wrote about how it was a trap series for the Badgers hosting the Beavers one week after a trip to North Dakota, and one week before the Gophers roll into town. Even Eaves admitted in his press conference Monday that he thought maybe his guys were looking down the road a little bit, and maybe they didn't bring their best effort because of it.
TDG: What do you think are the keys for Wisconsin this weekend? What are you hoping to see from the Badgers?
AJ: Well it's certainly no secret that the Badgers are having trouble scoring goals this season, so if they get down by two or three, they're toast. The back-bone of this team has been its goaltenders, and that must be the case this weekend vs. the Gophers. Wisconsin can play with teams like the Gophers, despite not having the offensive depth to score with them. Eaves likes to use the cliché, "Control what you can control." To Wisconsin that means effort, and defensive positioning.
TDG: Predictions for both nights?
AJ: It's really tough to handicap something like this with all of the moving parts involved. I think it's obvious that Minnesota is the more talented club; no one would disagree with that. That noted, there aren't many teams in the country who have gotten the consistent play out of their back-end like Wisconsin. The Badgers have lost by more than two goals just twice this season.
I'll say the Gophers win the opener in Madison 4-2, while the Badgers come back on Sunday on choppy outdoor ice and earn the split with a 3-2 victory.
Thanks to Andy for stopping by! And my usual friendly reminder to stop back tonight for the OPEN THREAD. As a special bonus, I will be commenting live from the media section at the Kohl Center. Which means...well, essentially you'll get the same comments only I'll be watching the game live. Score one for me!