Tis an odd week in the WCHA. Four of the teams, including the top two, are not playing. So teams like the Gophers, tied for third place, can make a move in the standings. But will they?
Here are this week's predictions:
No. 2 Gophers (19-5-4, 11-5-4) at No. 20 Wisconsin (12-9-7, 9-6-7), Friday night at Kohl Center in Madison, Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field in Chicago:
The Gophers tied with the Badgers 2-2 in mid-November at Mariucci, then beat them 3-1. That was so long, it doesn't matter much anymore. That was when UW was in a slump. Even so, if the Gophers can score a few goals, they should be fine. And they have scored four or more goals in 12 of their past 14 games and lead the country in scoring, averaging 3.75 goal per games. That's almost double the 1.93 goals they are giving up, which is fourth in the nation.
The big scorers are Erik Haula (13-22--35), who leads the team in points, and Nick Bjugstad, who has a team-high 15 goals. Defenseman Nate Schmidt (8-20-28) leads all blue-liners in points. Coach Don Lucia said his best players have to play well in the stretch run. He was talking about those guys ... and goalie Adam Wilcox, who had a 1.80 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage.
The Gophers lead the all-time series with Wisconsin 156-86-21, but the Badgers are ahead 4-7 at neutral sites, that would be Final Five games, regional games or special events like Sunday's Hockey City Classic.
The Badgers are 11-2-5 in their last 18 games after a horrendous 1-7-2 start. They are 2-0 in outdoor games, beating Michigan 3-2 at Camp Randall on Feb. 6, 2010 before 55,031 and defeating Ohio State 4-2 at Lambeau Field on Feb. 11, 2006 before 40,890. ... There have been 13 outdoor games since 2000, including one last Saturday in Omaha. North Dakota won that game 5-2 over UNO before 13,650.
Their most dangerous player is junior forward Michael Mersch who has 16 goals and 23 points. Nobody else on the team has more than six goals. Mersch scored twice when the Badgers tied the Gophers 2-2 three months ago. In that same game, sophomore goalie Landon Peterson made 40 saves.
Another reason the Badgers kept the two games close was their penalty kill, it was nine-for-10, including killing off two five-minute majors.
The Badgers have six Minnesotans: forwards Tyler Barnes, Joe LaBate ande Spencer Bell and defensemen Joe Faust, Kevin Schulze and Eddie Wittchow. Barnes (6-7-13) and LaBate (4-9-13) are tied for fourth on the team in points.
The Gophers have one player from Wisconsin, Nate Condon of Wausau.
Another quirk this weekend, besides playing one game outside, is that the ice rink size is different. It is 200x97 at the Kohl Center, 200x85 at Soldier Field. .. The Gophers are the only WCHA team which has a winning record against the Badgers.
So what will happen this weekend? The Pick: Split, although one game could easily be a tie
In the other series:
Minnesota Duluth at Bemidji State: The Beavers are winless in 12 games. UMD just got swept by Minnesota State at home. So these are two teams starving for a victory. The Pick: Split
Michigan Tech at Minnesota State: The Huskies are coming off an impressive 8-2 drubbing of Northern Michigan on Tuesday. But I've learned not to underestimate the Mavericks. The Pick: Mavs sweep
Nebraska Omaha at Alaska Anchorage: A tough road trip for Omaha or anybody. UAA is buried in last place in the WCHA, but the Seawolves would like to get a little momentum for the WCHA playoffs. UNO, tied with the Gophers for third, wants to stay in the MacNaughton Cup race. The Pick: UNO wins and ties.
* St. Cloud State players will be wearing throwback jerseys from the 1930s and '40s on March 2 vs. Michigan Tech at the National Hockey Center. That will be the Huskies final regular-season home game. The jerseys will be sold in a silent auction, held during the game, with proceeds going to the National Hockey Center.