Badgers enter home stretch

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoAfter having a week off to fine-tune its system for the stretch run, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team looks to continue its recent conference resurgence by hosting Minnesota State this weekend.In what might be a case of déjà vu for head coach Mike Eaves’ crew this weekend, the Badgers-Mavericks series will symbolize a defining moment in UW’s season.Late last February, the Badgers were in disarray after goalie Brian Elliott suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for four weeks. Wisconsin, visibly shaken after losing the backbone of its team, went 2-5 without Elliott. When he returned, the Hobey Baker Award finalist wasn’t himself, giving up 13 goals in a weekend sweep at Minnesota State.The series proved to be a wake-up call for Wisconsin, as the Badgers huddled together and were nearly unstoppable the rest of the season, posting a 9-1 record on their way to their sixth national championship.Fast forward to this season, as the Badgers (10-12-2, 7-8-1 WCHA) have begun to make their post-season run once again. Wisconsin has won four of its last six conference games on the heels of strong defense and solid goaltending.With a profitable weekend against Minnesota State, Wisconsin would put itself in position for another late postseason surge.“Losing those two games was one of the pivotal points of last season,” Eaves said during his press conference Monday. “The things that happened after that game [were] very important for us in terms of coming to grips with what we needed to do. We’re in the same position this year.”Although holding down second to last in the WCHA, the pesky Mavericks pose problems for the Badgers. Minnesota State is 3-4-1 in its last eight games versus Wisconsin.Proving their competitiveness against Wisconsin is no fluke. The Mavericks took three of four points Jan. 11 and 12 against national powerhouse St. Cloud State, ending the Huskies’ 12-game win streak.But as tough as the Mavericks have played against the Badgers in their recent history, Minnesota State has had little success in Madison, going 2-9-1 all time at the Kohl Center.For Eaves and his team, Minnesota State possesses some tough match-up problems that directly relates to its aggressive style of play.“Their best weapon is how hard they play,” Eaves said. “They try to make things uncomfortable because they take time, space and play extremely hard. [Head coach] Troy [Jutting] recruits players that play that way.”And at this point in the season, the Badgers can ill-afford to take any opponent lightly.The Badgers currently reside outside the top half of the WCHA and just outside the five hosting positions for the playoffs. Currently tied with Alaska-Anchorage for sixth, Wisconsin also sits at 17th in the NCAA’s PairWise rankings, which have an impact on the NCAA tournament selection process. According to the rankings, the Badgers are currently three spots away from making the tournament.Hope is not lost for the Badgers, however.Wisconsin has played the fewest league games (16) in the WCHA. And based on their remaining schedule — eight of the Badgers’ 12 remaining league games are against teams at or below them in the standings — the Badgers have the opportunity to make something happen.“We know what is at stake,” Eaves said. “Friday’s game is the most important game of the year; Saturday’s game is the most important game of the year — that will be the trumpet sound all the way to the end.”All-Star EavesIn just his second year in the NHL, Eaves’ son received a tremendous honor Sunday. Patrick Eaves, the 29th overall selection by the Ottawa Senators in the 2003 draft, has scored nine goals and 13 assists in 46 games this season and was selected to represent the East squad in the NHL YoungStars Game as part of All-Star weekend.“[Patrick] was all gung-ho about getting a couple days rest until he got that nice phone call,” the elder Eaves said. “Mrs. Eaves is going to get down and see him play. Sometimes, I wish I had my wife’s life because she gets to go see her kids play. Heck, you get to go down and hang around all the big guys of the game.“It’s definitely an honor for him.”last_img

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