It has been almost seven months, and a long seven months at that. Seven months since the Wisconsin Badgers hockey team has had a chance to forget last year’s disappointing season, and seven months since those same Badgers have skated in front of the Kohl Center crowd.
Tonight, all of those things change. This seasons expectation are high, as they usually are for the Badgers, as they open up at one of the best places and in front of one of the best crowds in college hockey at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers will open up against the Northern Michigan Wildcats. The Wildcats come into the Kohl Center for just the fifth time in the last six years. The Badgers have not faced the Wildcats since losing a two-game series in 2009. Over the teams last five meeting they share a 2-2-1 record, something the Badgers hope to tip in its favor by the end of the weekend.
Earlier in the week Head Coach Mike Eaves announced the Badgers would start with freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel between the pipes. Eaves is likes Rumpel’s talent and his build.
“Well, we'll start with Joel Rumpel. He is tall, lanky, athletic and has good reflexes. I think those are his strengths as he comes in to us,” Eaves said.
Rumpel will have his hands full over the weekend with senior forwards Tyler Gron and Justin Florek. Gron and Florek were both named to Central Collegiate Hockey Associations preseason all-conference teams, Gron is second team and Florek is honorable mention.
Gron and Florek combined to score 22 goals and assisted on 33 others. Florek was tied for the team lead with 12 goals. He was tied with senior forward Andrew Cherniwchan.
The Badgers defensive due, Justin Schultz and John Ramage, will need to stay in position to help the young Rumpel out as much as possible. The experience of Shultz and Ramage should help ease some of the growing pains of a freshman adjusting to the collegiate level.
Shultz will also be expected to shoulder the load along with Mark Zengerle, Sean Little, Derek Lee and Tyler Barnes. With another year under their belts, and a bigger role expected, offense should not be hard to come by for this young group.
The Badgers will need to capitalize on its opportunities as they face an experience goaltender in senior Reid Ellingson. Ellingson has improved over the last three years. Last season he posted 2.52 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He posted three shutouts and was named CCHA Player of the Month in November.
This weekend’s series will likely come down to goaltending. The Badgers should be better offensively and defensively than the Wildcats, but a good goaltender could make both of those factors minimal. The Badgers have the opportunity to win both of these games and start the season off on the right foot if Rumpel can get comfortable between the pipes and keep good position.
My prediction for Friday is 3-2 Badgers and Saturday 3-1 Badgers.
THe Badgers game will be televised on FS-WI following Brewers Live.