With a series sweep against Alaska-Anchorage last weekend, the UW men’s hockey tea pushed its unbeaten streak to eight games, the longest such streak since the 2005-06 season.
Though it is impossible to change the past, it’s hard to ignore it. Despite being on a hot stretch, a slow start still has the Badgers (6-7-5,4-5-5 WCHA) under the .500 mark overall and in conference play. Not to mention that Wisconsin remains toward the bottom looking up in the WCHA.
The Cardinal and White are tied for seventh place in the conference with 13 points and four of its six wins came against teams with a combined 6-28-5 record. None-the-less, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves is can’t deny that his club seems to be hitting its stride.
“We're undefeated in eight. I would say the wind is at our sails. Is it maxed out yet? I would tend to say no. I would want to say no,” Eaves said when he met with the media in Madison on Monday. “I would like to see us play even better, but the wind is definitely in our sails now, and we're going for it.”
Wisconsin will put its streak on the line this weekend as they travel to Mankato to take on Minnesota State. The Badgers were swept by the Mavericks at the Kohl Center earlier in the season. It’s a series that continues to haunt them in the standings to this day. But, Eaves remains optimistic heading into the weekend.
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“That series hurt in terms of not getting points, but I went back and looked at that series. Friday night, we out chanced them significantly. Saturday we out chanced them by a little bit, and we lost both games 4-2. I don't think we played, by any stretch, our worst hockey. We just couldn't score, and we didn't get goals at the right time,” Eaves said. I'm hoping with this wind in our sails, we're going into an environment we know is a tough environment, but what a great environment to win in. I'm hoping our guys will go in there and play well.”
Fueling the coach’s high spirits is the fact that he will have two start players in the lineup that he did not have the last time these two teams met. Senior center Mark Zengerle was out with a broken finger, while freshman forward Nic Kerdiles was suspended.
“Well, I think, just having those two guys back in and the way we're playing together. I don't think it's just one thing,” Eaves said. “I think it's the way we're playing together with those guys back in the lineup. We have our full complement.”
UW will also welcome back sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe who missed last weekend’s series due to the IIHF Junior World Championships. McCabe was the captain of the United States teams that took home the gold. Eaves stated that McCabe would like to play against Mankato.
“Any time a player goes through an experience like that — I remember when we came back from Finland or when Steps And rammer came back from their win, they're on a euphoric high that first weekend. They will play very, very well is what history tells us. “Eaves said. “Until a couple weeks later, it hits them physically, mentally and emotionally. But he will bring into the locker room that level of play that I hope will rub off.”
Eaves’ squad has been much more successful on the road (4-1-3 record) than they have been at home (2-4-2 record) this season. As far as he is concerned, those numbers reflect changes in personnel, not venue.
“It all has to do with getting people back, getting healthy, those types of things. It's funny how people say, well, what's different? We've got our people healthy and not suspended. Our game makers are back in the game and providing offense, and we have that in our ability now,” Eaves said. “So that's a key reason why we're on this little run that we're on right now.”