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Few prognosticators had Wisconsin competing for the Big Ten conference title prior to the start of the season. Just a matter of weeks ago the Badgers had a record of 8-7-1 following the holiday break. After a 7-1-0 start to the second half, the 15-8-1 team from Madison is as hot as any in the country and has climbed into the No. 15 PairWise Ranking. Each game of the series will be carried on BTN2go free of charge for Big Ten Network subscribers.
As No. 11 Penn State’s (16-6-2) winless streak has extended to five games, Guy Gadowsky is looking to his leaders to guide his team through these trying times. While this isn’t the first time some of the Nittany Lions’ veterans, including captain David Goodwin and alternate Ricky DeRosa, have hit a lull late in the season, this is the first time the team has struggled under the national spotlight.
The Lions’ five-game skid began four days after being voted the No. 1 team in the nation. Gadowsky has admitted since then that the team may have let the pressure of that number get to it. Now, the fifth-year head coach is hoping his leaders will help the team get back on track.
“I guess when you achieve things people aren’t sure you should, you get a lot more attention, both positive and negative. It’s just the way the world works now,” he said. “But, in general, leading when things are going well is easy. When you hit a lull, that’s when it’s really important.”
Gadowsky still isn’t sure how important that leadership has been to the team yet, considering they “haven’t come out of it yet,” he said. The hope is, however, to see improvements as the Lions take on co-conference leader Wisconsin. With a pair of wins over Michigan State last weekend, the Badgers remain in a tie for first in the conference with Minnesota.
As we laid out earlier this week, the Lions’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament dwindle as the losses pile up. Aside from a home series next weekend against the Golden Gophers, who swept the Lions in Minnesota, the Badgers pose the Lions’ most difficult test among remaining opponents.
Expectations may have been low for the Badgers heading into this season after posting just 12 wins in the prior two years combined. A coaching overhaul during the off-season that brought in former Detroit Red Wings assistant Tony Granato has done wonders for the Badgers, who now sit at 15-8-1 after winning five in a row.
Leading the way for the Badgers, much like he did during his freshman season, is sophomore Luke Kunin. After leading the team with 19 goals and finishing second with 32 points last season, the Badgers’ captain paces his team in both categories this year. He’s found the back of the net 17 times in just 23 games.
While the Lions’ defense may be too porous to keep the Badgers’ offense in check, Granato’s squad has had an even harder time keeping the puck out of its net this season. The Badgers have the second-worst goals against average in the Big Ten, allowing 3.12 goals per game.
Although the Lions’ offense was stymied against the Gophers last weekend, scoring just three goals in two games, the Badgers will likely have more trouble containing an attack that remains the best in the nation at over four goals per game.
Despite a few tweaks to their approach Gadowsky would like to implement in his team’s play; tightening up on defense, avoiding “home run plays,” etc., he wants the team’s identity to remain the same regardless of the score of the game.
“We believe that our game is a game that’s successful when it’s 0-0, a game that’s successful when we’re up and a game that can be successful when we’re down,” he said. “It’s not to change at all.”