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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Amid high expectations UW prepares for Duluth

stepan: Derek Stepan and the Badgers are coming off of a solid win over previously top-ranked Denver, and will now have to take on No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth, who currently sit at the top of the WCHA standings.

Amid high expectations UW prepares for Duluth

Not long after the Wisconsin men's hockey team took three points from their series against No. 1 Denver, reporters uttered the two words that instantly set the bar of expectations for the rest of the season: national championship.

""This team has depth. I think any time you win a championship one of the main ingredients for those teams is depth,"" head coach Mike Eaves said about this year's team. ""It's the ability to be able to not have to lean on one guy but having ability throughout the lineup and having guys play their roles. There are certain commonalities when you have a championship caliber team.""

Buzz about a national title could put unwanted pressure on the players, but Eaves believes that talk of a title will have little effect on his players as the season comes down the final stretch due to the team's philosophy and mental makeup.

""From day one a national championship has been our stated goal,"" Eaves said. ""You can look at it like climbing a mountain. You can look up and see your eventual goal, but when you're in the moment you better look right in front of you because if you continue to just look at the peak you're going to fall.""

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In Madison any talk of a potential run in the Frozen Four invokes memories of 2006, the year the Badgers last captured the national title, and comparisons to this year's group of Badgers are sure to follow.

""In goal we have two young guys playing very well as opposed to one guy,"" Eaves said about this year's squad. ""We also have more natural ability in the defensive core, we have more offensive ability on defense than before.""

""Up front this group is very similar,"" Eaves added. ""There are guys who have very high-end offensive ability, but we also have guys that are playing well without the puck and chipping in. In that regard these guys may be similar to that [2006] team.""

The Badgers head to Duluth this weekend for a critical matchup with Minnesota-Duluth, who currently sit atop the WCHA standings. The Badgers currently have 23 points in the standings, good for a tie for fourth place with Colorado College. Only two points separate the top five teams in the WCHA.

""Our goal for this weekend is to put points on the board, and W's,"" Eaves said about the upcoming matchup. ""Duluth has really transformed as a team since their run in last year's playoffs. Their players really used that experience as a springboard.""

""They currently have the top three scorers in the WCHA on their team,"" he added. ""So the challenge for us is not putting them on the power play and giving their offensive players those types of opportunities. We have to do a lot of the things we did this past weekend and carry them on into Duluth.""

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