Badgers’ offense hoping to surprise in opener

first_imgPractice had finished Thursday, and Wisconsin men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves had still not decided which of his three goalies would start either game of the season-opening series against Northern Michigan Friday and Saturday.He did say that he would decide before settling in for a good night’s sleep Thursday night. The decision is a tough one due to the fact that the Badgers are entering the season with three goaltenders that have never played a collegiate hockey game.“I think all three of those guys are capable of playing, and whoever gets the opportunity, we are hoping they step up and play well,” junior defenseman John Ramage said.Inexperience is one of the biggest weaknesses the Badgers and Wildcats have in common heading into this opening weekend series.“They are a lot like us,” Eaves said. “They are very young. They have 15 underclassmen and we have 20. It’s tough to really know what we are going to get by on watching video because last year there was different chemistry, different people; so we are looking for tendencies in our pre-scout but not putting a lot of stock in it. We are going to be more focused on what we need to do.”One of the most intriguing matchups headed into Friday will be Northern Michigan’s offense versus Wisconsin’s star-studded defense.The Wildcats return their top three goal scorers from a year ago in Tyler Gron, Justin Florek and Andrew Cherniwchan. Gron led Northern Michigan with 17 goals as a junior and was an impressive force on the power play unit, notching seven power play goals.Trying to contain the Wildcat attack will be captain and fourth-round NHL draft pick Ramage and two All-American defensemen, Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner.“Our defensive corps is very good, and I think we are confident in each other,” Ramage said. “I think our experience back there is going to help out our team a lot.”The Badgers’ stellar defensive line will be what Eaves is depending on to hide the mistakes he is sure his young team will make.“That first game, you are not quite sure what to expect,” Eaves said. “The one thing that will be there is high energy, but that high energy also tends to cause big mistakes too.”“Youthful mistakes, we are going to see them; we are going to live with them. We are going to see great moments from them because they have some talent. We are just going to see some youthful mistakes and you hope that you can cover them up and recover from them, and hopefully the guys can learn from them and move forward quickly.”Despite its youth, Wisconsin begins the year ranked No. 17 in the USCHO.com poll and No. 18 in the USA Today poll based on the receiving votes category (the poll only officially ranks the top 15).The Badgers are hoping that opening the season at home, where they are 2-2 in season openers under Eaves, will propel them to a fast start.“I remember my first weekend; you kind of get everything out of you,” sophomore forward Mark Zengerle said. “You are kind of nervous and don’t know what to expect, really. Especially in our own building, it’s going to be really exciting for them because [the young players] haven’t played in here yet. It’s a pretty special place to play, so it will be pretty big for them.”Zengerle led the Badgers in assists last season with 31, but looks to help improve an offense that may be taking a back seat to a defense with so many big names. Zengerle only scored five goals last year and said he put in lots of extra time in the offseason to make sure his scoring totals rise in 2011. He stressed that it falls on the offense to keep the puck away from whoever is in goal for Wisconsin.“We have to go out there and play our game,” Zengerle said. “It’s going to be the first two games of the year and we’re going to be in our own building, so we are going to have a lot of momentum and be really excited to go. Hopefully, we are going to be playing in their zone and not our zone.”With so much youth and excitement and a relative unknown of what is to come for the Badgers this season, Eaves says the fun is just about to start.“I want to see these guys under the gun, see what they can do when the game lights are on and the pressure is on,” Eaves said. “Now we start to reform a file about them in terms of what they can do, what they have and from there it’s how they evolve, and that is the fun part.”last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *