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Tuesday, June 25, 2024
No rest for the weary: UW faces No. 9 Duluth

Derek Stepan: Sophomore forward Derek Stepan has 21 points this season, tied for second on the team and tied for fifth in the WCHA.

No rest for the weary: UW faces No. 9 Duluth

For the second weekend in a row, the Badgers are set to tangle with a top dog. Last weekend, Wisconsin went toe to toe with the top-ranked team in the country and came away with three points. Now it travels to Duluth with a chance to deliver a similar performance and dethrone the current WCHA leader.

The No. 2 Badgers (10-5-3 WCHA, 14-6-4 overall) and the No. 9 Bulldogs (12-5-1, 14-5-3) certainly possess the offensive firepower to turn this series into a shootout. Wisconsin ranks first in the conference in scoring with 4 goals per contest, and Duluth checks in right behind with 3.46. Nine of the top 11 scorers in WCHA play, including the top seven, will be on the ice this weekend.

""We're both run-and-gun teams, we like to be good transition teams,"" sophomore forward Derek Stepan said. ""It should be fun to watch.""

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For the Badgers, the list of offensive producers is currently headlined by senior forward Michael Davies, who moved up the scoring ladder with a tremendous run of production the last month. He has 15 points (6 G, 9 A) in the last six games and has tallied at least two points in each. Last weekend against Denver, he scored twice, including the game-winner on Saturday, and added two assists en route to being named the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week.

The Bulldogs have an impressive array of weapons on the offensive end as well. They boast the top three scorers in the league, and the top line of sophomore Jack Connolly, junior Justin Fontaine and sophomore Mike Connolly has racked up 97 points this year.

Stepan, however, warned against focusing too much attention on a small number of players. 

""We have got to do what we can to shut down every line,"" he said. ""Not just their top line.""

Wisconsin returned a rotation between the pipes last weekend as junior goaltenders Scott Gudmandson and Brett Bennett each took a turn in net. This weekend, those two will each likely be called upon to shut down the UMD offense.

""It's tough when you have guys that can bury the puck any time they're on the ice together like they can,"" Bennett said.

All of the speed and offensive production from these two teams will operate with less real estate than the Kohl Center provides. The sheet of ice at the DECC is 190' in length, as opposed to the 200' sheet in Madison.

""It's their barn, and they're used to it,"" junior defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. ""Our job is to move our feet and not give them any space.""

The Badgers enter the weekend tied for fourth in the WCHA but trail Minnesota-Duluth by just two points. With a chance to take over the league lead, Wisconsin can ill afford any sort of hangover from last weekend's result.

""This is why you play in the WCHA,"" Bennett said. ""To play in the best conference against the best teams.""


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