Preview: Badger Showdown

Badger Showdown
Madison, Wis., Friday-Saturday, Dec. 30-31, 2005

Game 1: Northern Michigan Wildcats vs. Wayne State Warriors, 4:05 p.m. CT

Northern Michigan (9-8-1, 6-7-1 CCHA)
Head coach: Walt Kyle
Leading scorers: Sr. F Andrew Contois (6-9–15), Sr. F Dirk Southern (5-10–15), Sr. F Jamie Milam (5-10–15)
Leading netminder: So. Bill Zaniboni (7-5-1, 2.12, .916)

Wayne State (3-9-2, 1-4-1 CHA)
Head coach: Bill Wilkinson
Leading scorers: Sr. D Steve Kovalchik (1-11–12), Jr. F Nate Higgins (5-6–11), Jr. F Mike Forgie (5-5–10)
Leading netminder: Sr. Matt Kelly (2-4-2, 4.21, .872), Jr. Will Hooper (1-5-0, 3.70, .876)

Game 2: Western Michigan at No. 1 Wisconsin, 7:05 CT

Western Michigan Broncos (4-9-3, 4-4-0 CCHA)
Head coach: Jim Culhane
Leading scorers: Sr. F Brent Walton (11-8–19), Jr. F Paul Szczechura (4-11–15), Sr. F Mike Erickson (4-5–9)
Leading netminders: So. Daniel Bellissimo (4-8-3, 3.44, .898)

Wisconsin Badgers (14-2-2, 11-1-2 WCHA)
Head coach: Mike Eaves
Leading scorers: So. F Joe Pavelski (10-12–22), Jr. F Robbie Earl (8-12–20), Sr. D Tom Gilbert (3-9–12_
Leading netminder: Jr. Brian Elliott (14-2-2, 1.43, .943)

Tournament outlook: Three Michigan teams join the Badgers in Madison for this year’s Showdown, with Northern Michigan taking on Wayne State in the tournament’s first semifinal. Wayne State will attempt to continue its momentum after sweeping Hockey East foe Merrimack three weeks ago in its last series. Prior to that, the Warriors had suffered through an eight-game winless streak, and will need better goaltending from the tandem of Will Hooper and Matt Kelly to prevent a relapse in the second half. Meanwhile, the Wildcats, still rejoicing from team scoring leader Andrew Contois’ reinstatement by the NCAA, will lean on netminder Bill Zaniboni as well — but not head coach Walt Kyle, who is leading the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship this week. In a scheduling curiosity, the Wildcats’ most recent opponent — Western Michigan — will face Wisconsin in the other semifinal. Northern took three of four points from WMU the weekend before Christmas.

Host Wiscosin takes on WMU in the second semi. The Badgers have been on a season-long hot streak, thanks to a stifling defense anchored by netminder Brian Elliott. Elliott, who has been among the national leaders in wins, save percentage and goals against average throughout, has played every minute in net for Wisconsin, which gets the largest share of offense from Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl. After the Showdown, the Badgers return to WCHA play with a trio of hard series ahead in the forms of Colorado College, Denver and then Minnesota. First-round opponent Western Michigan will need to step up its offense to penetrate the Badger D, and that begins with Brent Walton, who leads the Broncos in scoring despite numbers slightly down from last season’s breakout performance. Daniel Bellissimo is again the main man in net for head coach Jim Culhane’s squad.