first_imgRegardless of record, rivalry games tend to be close and hard-fought contests. For the Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s sake, that will hopefully hold true. Minnesota (9-1-0, 6-0-0) comes to Madison ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time since 2008, and Wisconsin (4-5-1, 3-4-1) will face the task of ending a four-game winning streak and avoid becoming Minnesota’s third consecutive road series sweep.Not only are the Golden Gophers playing great hockey, but Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves has also noticed a new attitude that he attributes to new Minnesota associate head coach Mike Guentzel. Guentzel, a former UM player and assistant coach, returns to the Minnesota bench after three single-season coaching stops. The last stop came under Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais, and anyone who witnessed Wisconsin’s series against UNO earlier this year will recognize the influence.“[Minnesota is] playing with great energy right now. They seem like they are more concerned about playing hard, just going and taking away time and space and pressure,” Eaves said. “They are leading the country in penalty minutes right now which is unusual for a Gopher team, but that is a little bit of an influx of a new assistant coach coming in there. … [There is more] ‘Hey, let’s play harder, let’s just demand that from our kids because once again that is at the base of the pyramid; if you play hard you have a good chance to win.”In an attempt to maximize the Badgers’ chances, Eaves is making a significant lineup change to what has been a predictable formula thus far. Joel Rumpel will start game one in goal Friday night against the Gophers, bumping Landon Peterson from that slot for the first time all season.Eaves said the decision came down to a growing disparity in game time numbers as well as a better performance in practice this week from Rumpel, but remained noncommittal on Saturday’s starter.With everything the Gophers do well, it may not be a bad idea for the Badgers to play the numbers game in a series that provides a great opportunity to prove themselves and capture key victories.“The added excitement is pretty special with the rivalry and stuff, but being they are ranked No. 1 right now puts a target on them, and we definitely look at that as an opportunity to play in some good games and hopefully improve and get some wins,” sophomore defenseman Joe Faust said.Success for Wisconsin may be determined by its ability to clear one of the biggest hurdles it has faced all season, a lack of strong play from the penalty killing unit. Through the first 10 games of the season, Wisconsin is last in the WCHA in penalty killing at 69 percent, and Minnesota will surely look to take advantage of that. The Gophers lead the conference in power play conversions at 28.3 percent.“We are looking more comfortable; we are understanding the scheme we want to run,” Eaves said. “We only had two forwards coming back [this season] that really had any experience, so it’s been a lot of learning under fire. Going two-for-two [in penalty kills] on Saturday was a good thing and then practice here yesterday we did some good things and set up some things we wanted to do and we executed them pretty well.”One way Wisconsin can help its own cause on the penalty kill is to limit Minnesota’s chances. Last weekend the Badgers only allowed two power plays in the game two tie against St. Cloud State. But to do so, a significant factor will be whether the Badgers can keep the likely high emotions of a border battle in check.“You walk a fine line. You want to get all jacked up and go out there and play hard, but at the same time you have to be smart,” junior forward Ryan Little said. “I think a lot of that comes with experience and playing in that type of series before and just knowing your limits.”Outside of bragging rights, the Badgers have even more important reasons to play well on Friday and Saturday. Little more than a month into the season, Wisconsin sits one game below .500 and a poor showing at home could start digging a hole that will be tough to get out of as the season goes on, especially for a team with such lofty goals.“We always talk about developing [ourselves] into a championship-caliber team, where we hopefully put ourselves one day to be in a championship caliber series,” Eaves said. “In playing this level of team and this type of series helps us grow to that.”last_img

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