My SB Nation Wisconsin hockey counterpart, Andy Johnson, is a busy man. Besides covering the team for Bucky's Fifth Quarter, he contributes to Western College Hockey and USCHO in addition to co-hosting the Radio Free Omaha/B5Q WCHA Podcast (which, like North Dakota, needs a new name).
We were lucky enough to have Andy take a few moments out of his schedule to answer a few questions for this weekend's Minnesota-Wisconsin series at Mariucci Arena. Tonight's game is at 7 p.m. on FSN+ (check your local listings here) and Saturday's game is at 8 p.m. on BTN.
1. I had the Badgers ranked high (3rd) in my preseason rankings after how they came together as a young team during the second half of the season. That obviously hasn't been the case so far - Wisconsin is currently 1-4-1 - so just right off the bat, what is going on in Madison? Which to you is the biggest issue? What positives are there to take away from the first six weeks of the season?
Johnson: Well, to be honest it's a number of things. Mike Eaves described it as the 'perfect storm' last week. Whether it be the suspension to Nic Kerdiles, the injuries to Mark Zengerle and Derek Lee, or the departure of assistant coach Bill Butters, UW hasn't caught a break in a long time.
Expectations were high in Madison this season, and with good reason. They returned over 80% of their scoring and brought in some elite freshman. They've showed flashes of brilliance at times but through six games have yet to put together a complete three periods of hockey.
The good news is that it's early in the season and if there's a time to go through this mess, it's right now. They're going to get Kerdiles and Zengerle back, and they're going to hire a new assistant soon. Can they whether the storm until then? We shall see.
2. Wisconsin had last week off while Minnesota traveled to Anchorage to face the Seawolves. Is that an advantage for the Badgers or do you think being off hurts them in terms getting off to a fast start on the road?
Johnson: Well I think that Wisconsin is looking at is as an advantage. In actuality, it's all about the mindset that you take. Wisconsin had an interesting week off in dealing with the resignation of Bill Butters, but I think it was a good bonding time for them to band together as brothers moving forward.
Wisconsin is going through a transition in their systems as well, as they've switched up their forechecking systems this season. This week was a great opportunity for them to review tape and hone their systems moving forward.
3. Returning 50 point scorer Mark Zengerle recently broke his finger blocking a shot and is out for the foreseeable future. With him and WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Justin Schultz (who signed a pro contract in the off-season with Edmonton) not around, who should Gopher fans keep an eye on this weekend that may be under the radar?
Johnson: I think this is really the question of the weekend. Wisconsin has relied on those two players so heavily for production lately that it's hard to imagine what UW can produce without them. That said, Eagan native Tyler Barnes has always been a Gopher killer. Barnes has three goals in four career games at Mariucci, and always seems to get up for these games. Additionally, look for junior Michael Mersch to step up. The L.A. Kings draft pick is leading the team in goals and has a nose for the net.
4. What song sums up this weekend's series?
Johnson: Jay Z--99 Problems: It seems like every time UW turns around at this point, something goes wrong. Nic Kerdiles is suspended for a ridiculous ten games, Mark Zengerle suffers a freak injury blocking a shot, Derek Lee is injured in a scooter accident, assistant coach Bill Butters resigns six games into the season after feeling a calling from God.
At this point it's like Murphy's Law for UW. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
5. Putting you on the hot seat Andy. What's your prediction for the weekend?
On paper this is an easy sweep for Minnesota. The Gophers have the more talented roster, and UW is going through unprecedented turmoil. That said, UW plays great at Mariucci as evidenced by their 5-2-1 record in their last 8 games at Minnesota.
I think Minnesota is the better team, and will earn the points, but I think UW sneaks away with one point this weekend. I'll say a win and a tie for the Gophers.
Thanks again Andy for your answers. Once again you can follow him on Twitter @AndyJohnsonB5Q and read his Wisconsin hockey coverage at Bucky's Fifth Quarter.
For more University of Minnesota coverage, check out The Daily Gopher. For more University of Wisconsin coverage, go to Bucky's Fifth Quarter. You can also find WCHA and NCAA coverage at Western College Hockey and SB Nation's NHL Hub.
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