Badgers head west for border battle

first_imgView Gallery (2 Photos)Jill Gardiner has some decisions to make this weekend.One of her sons, Jake Gardiner, a defenseman on the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, is heading up to Minneapolis this weekend to play the Minnesota Golden Gophers, which has been a standard occurrence over Gardiner’s three years at UW. This year, though, Jake’s younger brother Max is a freshman forward on the Minnesota team.So does Jill create one of those half-and-half jerseys, or just switch for each game? Maybe she just plays favorites?Jake doesn’t know. He is, however, looking forward to playing his brother, and the two have scouted each others’ teams a bit. He’s not giving away too much, though.“We’re not giving any systems or anything, but telling him how our forwards are and our D,” Gardiner said with a laugh.The Badgers’ (5-2-1, 2-1-1 WCHA) trip to Minnesota (5-3-0, 3-3 WCHA) will be a homecoming for more than just Gardiner, however. As usual, the UW roster has its share of Minnesotans, including three freshmen.One of those rookies, defenseman Joe Faust, didn’t face any shock at donning the red in this series.“I was never a huge Gopher fan growing up, I was more just a hockey fan,” Faust said.Even UW’s native Wisconsinites have Minnesota connections, as senior forward Podge Turnbull played two years at Duluth East High School before playing junior hockey. As with most of the Minnesota-Wisconsin matchups in any sport, the intensity level is high, especially with so many of the players on each team knowing guys on the other.“Going in, there is always a personal contest with guys. And the Wisconsin-Minnesota pride thing, who’s better, who’s not,” Turnbull said. “It’s actually a lot of fun, you see a lot of higher tempo, bigger hits, because everyone’s playing that much harder for pride for Wisconsin.”With big rivalries come big emotions, and in hockey, that sometimes translates into unnecessary penalties. The Badgers took three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties last Saturday against Michigan Tech, resulting in the Badgers going down a man each time. And although UW is a young team, the guilty Badger in each of two of those calls was a senior.Wisconsin escaped that game giving up just one power-play goal in six MTU power plays, but head coach Mike Eaves was less than thrilled with the scraps after the whistle. The team is well aware of the need to stay levelheaded.“Emotions run high in games like this,” Turnbull said. “I definitely feel like our talk all week within the locker room has been, let’s keep our emotions in check; let’s play smart, play whistle to whistle. Let’s goad them into doing the stuff after the whistle and we’ll take the power plays.”If Wisconsin can draw calls and get on the power play, it will send out the nation’s third-best unit. UW converts on 31.1 percent of its chances on the man-advantage and is second in Division I with 14 power play goals.That doesn’t bode especially well for Minnesota, which is just 38th in the country with a 78.4 percent penalty kill.“We just have so many options, we have so much firepower on our power play. We can do a lot of things with that,” Gardiner said.Five Badgers have at least two power-play goals, and it’s no coincidence the first-unit power play makes up five of UW’s top six scorers.The silver lining in taking all the penalties last weekend was the Badgers got to see how well their penalty kill could play. The Huskies came into Madison with a 37 percent conversion rate with the man-advantage and left with a 30.6 percent mark.“Our forwards are doing a great job blocking shots, that’s definitely one of our biggest things,” Gardiner said of the UW penalty kill. “Our defense, positionally, they’re doing well, getting pucks down ice and wasting time on the penalty kill is huge.”All told, Wisconsin scores more (just barely, 4.25 goals to 4.12) and allows fewer goals (1.88 to 3.48) per game than Minnesota. Those numbers can be taken with a grain of salt, sometimes, in border battle games. Last season, Wisconsin split the four games it played with Minnesota, although nobody would say the two teams matched up evenly.In terms of other moves, Eaves is throwing one major changeup in his defensive pairings, putting Gardiner and sophomore Justin Schultz together. The two defensemen play together on the power play and Eaves was interested to see how the two would fare over the course of a full game.That leaves UW mixing two experienced guys in sophomore John Ramage and senior Craig Johnson with Faust and freshman Frankie Simonelli. Eaves said the two freshmen may play together on some shifts, depending on how things play out.Rivalry aside, Eaves still thinks the Badgers need to decide what kind of team they will be. Both teams are coming off sweeps, UW over Michigan Tech and UM going out to Colorado College and leaving with four points.The Badgers struggled in their only other road trip, a loss and tie at Denver. Eaves would like his young team to even out its course between now and Christmas.“The number one thing is to see consistency,” he said. “With a young team, we’re going to see brilliant moments and we’re going to see moments where we absolutely want to pull our hair out. And we’ve had those moments already.”last_img read more

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