It will be a clash of the titans on Friday night at Conte Forum when #2 Wisconsin comes to town to take on #4 Boston College. To add a cherry on top, it's Jerry York Night - and BC's first home game in the new "Hockey East/Big Ten Challenge." It should be a special night. To prepare for it, we chatted with Bucky's Fifth Quarter, a Wisconsin blog on the SBNation network covering all things Badgers. Andy Johnson answered the questions.
BC Interruption: Wisconsin started the season as planned with a sweep of Northern Michigan. What were your takeaways from those games?
Bucky's Fifth Quarter: I'd say it's a lot of what we expected. The older guys we expected would be good offensively were good offensively. The defense didn't give up much in the way of shots or opportunities, and the goaltenders did what they had to do to win two games. This is a veteran team and they acted like it in the first weekend of the season.
Friday was a lot more convincing because the Badgers were able to put up five goals, but head coach Mike Eaves actually liked the systems play a bit better on Saturday. Obviously it's only natural that they will improve in that area as the season progresses.
BCI: The Badgers are ranked #2 in this week's USA Hockey poll. Do you agree with the ranking? How high are your expectations for this season?
B5thQ: Coming into the season I figured they would be a top-10 team, but even I was surprised when I saw they were No. 3 in the initial poll. Obviously a move to No. 2 was inevitable with UMass Lowell laying an egg on opening night.
Overall, given what they return with 16 upperclassmen, two junior goaltenders with a lot of experience as well as over 80 percent of their scoring returning for the second consecutive season, it's not hard to see why pollsters like the Badgers early in the season.
As for expectations, I think it would be a failure if they didn't finish in the top two in the Big Ten, and at least earn an NCAA tournament birth. This team has the talent and leadership to win a national championship if they can catch a break on the injury front. Not a lot of teams can say that heading into a season and be realistic about it.
BCI: What would you say are Wisconsin's weaknesses, if any? Is there anything in particular that contributed to the huge loss to Lowell in last year's NCAA tournament, or would you just chalk that up to a bad day?
B5thQ: I worry about their effectiveness on the power play. Last year they were painful to watch. Even Mark Zengerle admitted they didn't want to take the ice for power plays because they had no confidence and not scoring just sucked the life out of them even more. They've changed up personnel and strategy and appear more effective, but we'll see how they look against a better penalty kill this weekend.
As for the Lowell game last year, Wisconsin got out of what they did best when they won the conference tournament, and that's keeping things simple. They won last year when they worked for their goals, got pucks deep, battled in the corners and wanted it more than other teams. They got over-aggressive against Lowell, leading to odd-man rushes the other way and Lowell made them pay. It was honestly like I was watching a team I hadn't seen all season during that NCAA first round game. Have to tip your cap to Lowell though, as they played great and took advantage of every opportunity.
BCI: A big key to beating BC, obviously, is trying to contain Johnny Gaudreau. How have the Badgers fared in shutting down superstars on opposing teams?
B5thQ: It's a great question and I'm curious to see if Eaves changes anything for Gaudreau this weekend. Wisconsin obviously doesn't have last change, but I'm not sure they would play a specific line on him anyways. Eaves requires all four lines to play a 200 foot game. That said, I'd be surprised if you saw UW's line with Grant Besse and Jedd Soleway (two freshmen) on the ice when they know Gaudreau is coming up. Other than that, Wisconsin's top six has experience playing against some outstanding players, and even the Badgers' fourth line has two guys they trust on their top penalty killing unit.
BCI: Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson split time in the series against Northern Michigan. Who do you expect to see in net Friday night? How would you describe the differences between the two goalies?
B5thQ: I think you'll probably see Peterson on Friday with Rumpel going against BU on Saturday. Eaves calls it a 1A, 1B situation, so that's pretty much all we have to go on to anticipate what's going to happen this weekend. Given Peterson started last Friday, I'll guess he goes against BC.
Peterson is the smaller goaltender, but is very aggressive and loves to challenge shooters by cutting down angles. Rumpel has more length but is extremely agile between the pipes. Both goaltenders have the potential to be All-American's if they weren't being blocked by one another.
BCI: The obligatory Big Ten question: How did you feel about college hockey realignment when it first started going down, and how do you feel about it now?
B5thQ: I think I was one of the first people to get on board with Big Ten hockey because I could see the endless potential not only for TV, but with the NCAA. Hockey doesn't have a big say with the NCAA right now, and I think having the Big Ten, a power conference, can only help at the negotiating table. Mike Eaves referenced this again last week and I think it's a legitimate point.
Between the Big Ten Network, ESPN-U, NBC Sports Network and CBS College Sports, the Badgers have 12 games on National TV this season. I expect that number to rise next year. Obiously the other Big Ten teams are on roughly the same amount. That's great for the sport.
BCI: Wisconsin plays BC on Friday night and BU on Saturday night. How do you predict the weekend will play out?
B5thQ: So early in the season it's really tough to say. I know I've been looking forward to this weekend for a while now. I think the Badgers come out of this weekend with a win, and It's probably more likely to come on Saturday against BU. I'll give BC the edge over Wisconsin at Conte on Friday, but I think we're in for a great weekend of hockey overall.
Wisconsin losing to BC on Friday and beating BU on Saturday sounds good to me. Thanks again to Andy at Bucky's Fifth Quarter for chatting with us. It's almost time to drop the puck!