Statement games ahead for Badgers

first_imgWhen the hockey installment of the Border Battle resumes this weekend, it will feature two teams headed in vastly different directions. The Badgers, who have dropped five of their last six games including a four-game skid at home, will travel to Minnesota to face off against the No. 2-ranked Golden Gophers, currently riding a 10-game unbeaten streak.One thing the archrivals do share, however, is a pair of freshman classes making immediate contributions.Last weekend against Denver, University of Wisconsin freshmen Mike Davies and John Mitchell were the lone bright spots in an otherwise disappointing weekend. Despite being swept by the Pioneers, the rookie tandem played their best hockey of the season.Saturday, they combined for three points, with Mitchell netting the first goal of his career, earning high praises from UW head coach Mike Eaves.”[Mitchell] had some scoring opportunities early with us, and he finally got his first goal, and I’m hoping that opens some floodgates for him because he has created and been a part of a lot of scoring chances. So if he can continue to bloom, that’d be a real nice thing for this club.”Davies, who flourished in the United States Hockey League prior to playing for the Badgers, notched his fourth goal of the season Saturday, and is currently third on the team with 8 points. The Missouri native is pleased with his development and believes that best is yet to come.”Me and Mitch played well this weekend. We just did what we had to for the team, and it worked out great for us. [Coach Eaves] rewarded us with ice time, and that is the kind of steps we have got to take,” Davies said. “Just keep moving forward, keep getting better each day, and we’ll get stronger and stronger, and in the end it will be good for us.”While the talented UW freshman class has been turning some heads this season, Minnesota’s rookies have been just as impressive. Freshmen sensations Jay Barriball (seven goals and eight assists for 15 points) and Kyle Okposo (nine, five, for 14) are two of the Gophers top-three scorers and both currently rank in the top 11 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association scoring. Davies, who played against both Okposo and Barriball in the USHL, spoke highly of Minnesota’s golden boys.”I played against them last year, and Okposo was by far the best player in the league. He just dominated every aspect of the game; he’s a great player, and he should be a great NHL player,” Davies said. “I only played against [Barriball] a few times, but I know he’s smart, and he loves to shoot the puck.”Eaves downplayed the coveted Border Battle, citing the high level of competition the Badgers face every weekend in WCHA play. Players and coaches recognize the necessity for a successful weekend after struggling as of late.”With Minnesota, we always have history, but in our league every weekend is so big. So I don’t know if there is a difference in the way we look at Minnesota, Denver or North Dakota, because they are all such very good teams,” Eaves said of the parodied WCHA conference. “There is no question that a successful weekend would help us to solidify the direction that we are going. I talked with the captains and they said, ‘Coach, if we can get a couple wins, that would really be big for us,’ and what a great weekend to get it going.”Last season, Wisconsin traveled to Mariucci Arena and took both games from Minnesota. According to assistant captain Jake Dowell, the Badgers will have to set the tone early and often to deliver an encore performance.”When we beat them last year, it was because we played tough and physical, which is our style of game, and we need to establish that,” Dowell said. “We know they’re hot right now, and it’s Minnesota, so [the] guys are naturally more jacked up. … It’s an easy game to get up for.”Recruits sign letters of intent Thursday, Eaves announced the signing of six elite recruits who will be joining the Badgers in fall 2007.Included in the class are goaltender Scott Gudmandson (Sherwood Park, Alberta); defenseman Cody Goloubef (Oakville, Ontario), Ryan McDonagh (Arden Hills, Minn.) and Brendan Smith (Toronto, Ontario); and forwards Joshua “Podge” Turnbull (Duluth, Minn.) and Kyle Turris (New Westminster, British Columbia).last_img

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