One of the great things about SB Nation are the hundreds of the best blogs and sites covering almost every sports team. It makes finding an expert and passionate fans only a click away.
For this weekend's Gophers-Badgers hockey series, SB Nation Minnesota was able to take a moment to talk with the hockey editor of the Wisconsin Badgers' SB Nation site Bucky's Fifth Quarter, Chuck Schwartz, while I did the same over at B5Q. Chuck was able to give the Badgers insight on how things have been going for a young Wisconsin team, who to keep an eye out on and gave a prediction for this weekend.
You can follow Chuck on Twitter @UWChuckSchwartz and be sure to check out Bucky's Fifth Quarter throughout the weekend.
SBN Minnesota: Historically one of Wisconsin's strengths has been their goalies. The Badgers have produced great NHL goaltenders from Mike Richter to Curtis Joseph to Brian Elliot and over the past decade it seems like there is always a goalie waiting to replace the last star. With Brett Bennett and Scott Gudmandson both graduating last season, how have the two freshmen goalies, Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson, fared so far?
Schwartz: They've looked much better than expected. Coming into the season it was expected that Rumpel would get the majority of the starts, and that Peterson and junior walk-on Mitch Thompson may get some starts here and there. So far they've used a Friday/Saturday rotation with Peterson on Friday and Rumpel on Saturday. Eaves likes Peterson on Friday because he's a calmer goalie and can handle the adrenaline of the opening night of a series. So far Rumpel has played the better goal between the two, and I think it's fair to say that looking at their numbers as well as the eye test. It will be interesting to see what Eaves does this weekend, as he alluded earlier in the week he may play Rumpel on both nights. I think that's probably the right call at this point. I like Peterson, but I think Eaves needs to put his best players on the ice both nights this weekend.
SBN Minnesota: The Badgers are 4-5-1 so far this season. They've outclassed two of the better teams in the WCHA by sweeping North Dakota and beating Nebraska-Omaha 6-3 but the same team was swept by Michigan Tech and lost 7-2 to St. Cloud State. Why has there been so much inconsistency for Wisconsin in the first month of this season?
Schwartz: Youth, inexperience, whatever you want to call it. Wisconsin is playing 15+ freshmen and sophomores every weekend and the adverse affect with that is going to be inconsistency, especially early. It's actually funny because some of the games they haven't played well, they've won, and other games that they've looked great they've lost. They also have been playing without Derek Lee and Jake McCabe the past 2-3 weeks and those two were expected to be impact players this season so once they return I expect this team to gain some confidence and consistency.
SBN Minnesota: Justin Schultz continues the long line of NHL-ready Badger defensemen. With 14 points in 10 games, the junior is showing why he was Wisconsin's leading scorer last season and unanimously picked to the all-WCHA preseason team. What can you tell Gopher fans about him?
Schwartz: I'd tell Gopher fans to enjoy him while you can, even as an opposing fan. It's rare that a player of his caliber with a rookie max contract offer turns it down to return to college for another season but he did and it's a treat for college hockey to have him. As a player, his hands, vision, and hockey IQ are off the charts and he continues to improve which is scary. He'll probably play 30 minutes a night this weekend against the Gophers, and excel doing so.
SBN Minnesota: It always seems like Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has someone ready to emerge out of nowhere after the Badgers lose players early to the NHL. With Craig Smith and Jake Gardiner both in the NHL despite having college eligibity, who has been able to improve from last season and take their spot?
Schwartz: Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes have really taken the next step offensively. Both players are sophomores and have taken that next step in their second years on campus and are really playing like top line players. Zengerle had 36 points last season but only five came from goals. This year through ten games he's recorded four goals, so he should blow his goal total from last season out of the water. Barnes is a Minnesota kid who plays like a bull and leads the team in goals which isn't surprising playing on the wing with Zengerle who is one of, if not the best passer in the WCHA.
SBN Minnesota: What is your favorite Wisconsin-Minnesota hockey moment?
Schwartz: That's a great question. Since I'm too young to have been around when the Badgers beat the Gophers in the 1981 NCAA title game, I'll go with the Badgers 08-09 sweep at Mariucci Arena. I've been fortunate to be in attendance for these games more often than not, especially on the road and that weekend was no different. Although neither team was great, the atmosphere in Mariucci was buzzing like any rivalry game. Myself and a few other Badger fans through connections that we refuse to reveal were able to sit in the first row of the Gopher student section on Saturday. We took our fair share of abuse (probably deserved), but there wasn't a sweeter feeling than final buzzer sounded on Saturday night.
SBN Minnesota: You asked me to give a prediction so now it's your turn Chuck. Who do you see winning this weekend's Border Battle series and why?
Schwartz: This is a cop out but I'm going to say split. I think the Gophers have proven they are the better team right now, but no team expects to go into the Kohl Center and sweep. I feel like Minnesota will come out strong on Friday night and probably win, and the Badgers will get them on Saturday. Wisconsin has been extremely resilient this season and fought back to win games they probably shouldn't have, and I think that continues this weekend.
Once again, thank you Chuck for taking the time to answer these questions.