This weekend the Spartan hockey team will travel to Madison, Wisconsin to play their first ever B1G series against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers currently sit 8th in the USCHO poll and are 2nd in the B1G standings. Last weekend the Badgers went on the road and earned a series split with Ohio State by winning 4-2 Saturday, after losing 2-1 on Saturday night.
Andy Johnson (@AndyJohnsonB5Q) from Bucky's 5th Quarter was kind enough to stop by and answer some of my hard journalism questions on the Badgers. Be sure to visit B5Q as Andy is one of the best college writers out there and a great follow on Twitter.
1. Joel Rumpel has been outstanding with a 93.3 save %. Is this type of year surprising and what makes Rumpel so good?
No, I don't think it's surprising at all. Rumpel has been outstanding since arriving on campus and has only continued to get better. Now in his junior season, I think we all expected him to go to another level, and he has. If you ask the coaching staff what the difference is this year, they would tell you it's his focus and consistency.
2. Wisconsin is one of 2 teams in the B1G to join after being in the WCHA. How is the new league affiliation treated in your fan base?
There's been a mixed reaction, which I think is to be expected. There's always going to be people who hate it, but I think overall people are starting to come around. Three of the biggest crowds of the season so far have come against Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State. Saturday's crowd vs. Sparty is supposed to be close to 15,000 as well. It's going to take a few years but as long they keep bringing in some old WCHA rivals for non-conference games I think people will come around.
3. So the Kohl Center was rocking when #1 Minnesota came into town a few weeks ago. What type of atmosphere should Spartan fans expect this weekend?
I'd expect good crowds. Friday is at about 10,000 right now and as I mentioned, Saturday for senior day should be close to a sellout at 15,000. Provided the hockey isn't too dull, there should be some good energy in the building.
4. The Badgers seem to be a balanced squad with 5 players over 20 points. Who up front should we keep our eyes on?
That's certainly one of the reasons Wisconsin has had success this season. Nic Kerdiles, Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes were paired up last week for the first time all season. Last year they were one of the top lines in the country when paired together. Michael Mersch is one of the top goal scoring threats in the country, so he must be accounted for as well.
5. Over at TOC we like to call UW our #RealRival, to troll UM and to call attention to the great games our football and basketball programs have played. How do UW hockey fans feel about the MSU hockey program?
To be honest, not much spark there. Obviously the football and basketball programs have had some outstanding games lately, but hockey hasn't played enough to really develop anything. Obviously the college hockey showcase was fun, but that was one game a year and with it being over the Thanksgiving holiday, the students were never there. Hopefully with playing four times a year, the rivalry will continue to grow.
6. Care to make a prediction on how this weekends games will go?
I think everyone would agree on paper UW should have the advantage. Along with senior weekend and the games being at home, the Badgers should come out of the weekend with more points. Will it be a sweep? I'm going to say no. Wisconsin has been stymied by good goaltenders before, and I could see that happening on Friday. I'll say Sparty wins in a shootout on Friday and the Badgers win in regulation in the finale.