Five weeks have passed since the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (5-3 Big Ten, 5-5 overall) last saw the ice in their victory over Ohio State in Columbus. After the series with Michigan State was canceled due to COVID-19 issues with the Spartans, the Badgers will look to return to Big Ten action this Saturday when the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-0 Big Ten, 10-0 overall) visit Madison.
The Badgers haven’t necessarily been doing nothing during this time off, as starters Dylan Holloway and Cole Caufield have both just finished up their duties at the World Junior Championship. Both Badgers return to Wisconsin with some new regalia, as both Holloway and Caufield were medal winners at the tournament, with Holloway taking home silver for Team Canada and Caufield a gold medal winner for Team USA.
As the Gophers come to take on the Badgers, fans' will be focused on the fact that this is the first time in almost two months that we will see this Badger team at full strength. The Badgers are returning captain Ty Pelton-Byce, who was one of the better scorers on the team before missing the last seven games due to injury.
With Holloway and Caufield staying warm competing at the World Junior tournament, as well as the offensive production coming from senior forward and Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Player of the Month Linus Weissbach, Badger fans should be excited for what is likely to be a heavily contested series with the best team in all of hockey.
The Badgers are averaging 3.40 goals scored per game, which ranks second in the conference, behind 3.44 for the top-ranked Gophers. However, the Badgers are also getting scored on at a relatively high 3.2 goals per game, which is sixth in the Big Ten.
Taking a look at Minnesota, even with this Badger team at full strength for the first time in months, it is easy to see that Wisconsin will have their work cut out for them. For the first time in more than 80 years, the University of Minnesota men's hockey program is off to a 10-0-0 start.
The Golden Gophers have won twelve straight games dating back to last season, and in their 10 wins, the Gophers have outscored the competition 37 to 13. The most impressive number there is the mere 13 goals allowed on the season, best in the conference.
Even though they started a new goalie last week in Jared Moe, with Jack LaFontaine, one of the best in the country, missing the game, the Gophers won 6-3 over Arizona State with twelve players scoring points in the rout of the Sun Devils.
The last time Minnesota men’s hockey had won their first 10 games was 1939-40, which featured John Mariucci on the ice, the player in which the Gophers’ hockey arena was named after.
The last time UW faced a No. 1-ranked Minnesota team, Wisconsin swept the Gophers with a pair of 2-1 wins on Feb. 6th and 7th, 2014. Wisconsin has performed relatively well in games against the No.1 ranked team, going 15-19-3 since 1997, and 1-1 under current head coach Tony Granato.
Wisconsin fans should be sure to tune in this Saturday, January 9th, at 4pm on Fox Sports Wisconsin as the Badgers square off against Minnesota at LaBahn Arena.