Nobody … that includes Wisconsin fans … want to talk about the Badger's #10 preseason poll national ranking. Why? Well, Bucky fans aren't all together sure what their team might or might not bring to the rink this season. The oft-used "reload" adjective always applies to Big10 teams. Elite players want to go there and of course the history at Wisconsin is rife with big time talent. But the Badgers lost quite a bit from last year's squad and uncertainty is quite rationally the theme of the early season.
Make no mistake though, this team will be pretty good. Most prognosticators are picking them 3rd in the Big10. Last season the Badgers went 24-12-3. Their season ended with a 5-2 loss to UND in the NCAA Midwest Regional Semi-Final after beating Penn State and Ohio State in the Big10 playoffs to capture that leagues first title. They went 10-3-1 in February and March. No doubt it was disappointing to exit the NCAAs so early.
The end of their season saw the departure of their top 5 scorers; Mark Zengerle, Nic Kerdiles, Mike Mersch, Tyler Barnes and Jake McCabe. Those guys combined for an obscene number of goals and assists. I'm not even going to say the number because it's just mind blowing and I'm not in the business anymore of blowing your mind.
The one big time player they didn't lose from last season is goaltender Joel Rumpel. He only finished the season with a .929 save percentage and a win/loss record of 12-6-1. He stood on his head down the stretch too. You get that the "only" was sarcasm, right?
Mike Eaves sounds like he'll be depending on Rumpel and his other senior goalie Landon Peterson to buoy his young team and allow them to find their way. Expect them to do that at some point in the season but it's hard to say if they can come out of the gate blazing. This weekend, I'd expect a conservative defense-first effort from the Badgers with them looking to counter-attack when the opportunities present themselves.
The Badger's are pretty big overall with a slight height average advantage over our Seawolves. They aren't quite as muscular as UAA though. They're a wee bit older overall but that's not really indicative of anything. Last season's series in Wisconsin saw two pretty tight games with UAA winning on Friday night 3-2 and Bucky getting the W on Saturday. Seems pretty rational to expect another 1 goal difference on Saturday night. But who knows?
I think the Seawolves will have to be careful with their attack. Gaining the zone and even possessing the puck in Bucky's end won't be enough. Finishing will of course be the key. In our end the defense and goaltender better be well prepared. Wisconsin isn't just going to sit back and let UAA attack without a response.
I'd say the players to watch will be senior #16 Joseph LaBate who finished with 11 goals and 11 assists last season, sophomore #12 Grant Besse who bagged 8 goals as a freshman and the much anticipated freshman #4 Jack Dougherty on D. That isn't to say other players won't be dangerous. They are likely to be; also they are probably sick and tired of hearing about all the big-time players that left last season and are now looking to make their own mark.