December 29, 2005
Badger Hockey Showdown
Kohl Center • Madison, Wis.

Holiday Tournament Preview


Friday, December 30

Northern Mich. vs. Wayne State, 5:05 p.m.
Western Mich. at Wisconsin, 8:05 p.m.

Saturday, December 31

WMU vs. NMU or /Wayne State, 5:05 p.m.
NMU/Wayne St. vs. Wisconsin, 8:05 p.m.

On TV: Friday's Western Michigan-Wisconsin game will air on a tape-delay basis on Wisconsin Public Television at 10:30 p.m. CST.


For the second straight year, the host Badgers finished second in its tournament to Ferris State. In fact, Wisconsin was winless in the 2004 event, playing to a 1-1 with Yale in its opening-round match. The Badgers earned the right to play in the title match against FSU, which beat Clarkson in the first round, by winning the post-overtime shootout against the Elis.


Wisconsin might want to move the tournament back to the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, its home from 1989-2002. Bucky won eight Badger Hockey Showdown crowns during the event’s 14-year run in the City Made Famous by Schlitz Beer. They’re oh-fer in two tries at the Kohl Center.


All eyes will be on the Badgers…and not just because they’re the country’s top-ranked team, boast a leading Hobey Baker Award candidate in goaltender Brian Elliott and Joe Pavelski, a dynamic forward who’s having an All-American-caliber campaign.

Wisconsin’s recent struggles in the Badger Hockey Showdown have served as a precursor for the team’s lackluster play in the second half of the season. In Mike Eaves’s first two seasons behind the bench, the Badgers’ first-half record was an impressive 25-8-4, while their second-half mark was a middling 21-19-8. Anything less than two wins this time around could raise doubts about the mettle of this team among the Bleacher Creatures.

The possibility that someone in the field beats Wisconsin – as opposed to the Badgers beating themselves – exists. Northern Michigan, which plays this weekend without head coach Walt Kyle, is the top candidate despite scuffling to a somewhat disappointing 9-8-1 start. The Wildcats’ forwards have struggled to score thus far, but the group led by upperclassmen Andrew Contois, Dirk Southern, Jamie Milam and Darin Olver is dangerous. Senior Nathan Oystrick is one of the CCHA’s top defensemen and goaltender Bill Zaniboni (2.12 GAA, .916 sv%) has been terrific.

A pair of Great Lakes State schools – CHA member Wayne State and Western Michigan of the CCHA – round out the field. WMU, which has played well against top-flight opponents in the recent past, is paced by speedster Brent Walton (132 points in 130 career games) and underrated two-way forward Paul Szczechura. Wayne State, piloted by former Western Michigan coach Bill Wilkinson, started the season 0-8-2, but has won three of its last four games.


The Badgers will be without three regulars in the opener against Western Michigan – forwards Ross Carlson and Nick Licari will sit after receiving game disqualifications in a Dec. 10 win vs. Michigan Tech, and wing Jack Skille is playing for the U.S. team at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver. Elliott, Pavelski and linemate Robbie Earl make the Badgers go, though, and the Broncos are prone to defensive lapses. Wisconsin advances easily, as does Northern Michigan, setting up a rematch of the 1997 Badger Hockey Showdown championship game.

The Wildcats, like the Badgers, are talented enough to win both high-scoring, offensive shootouts as well as tight-checking, defensive affairs. But Northern Michigan’s inability to score (the team ranks 8th in the CCHA in scoring offense and has the league’s least effective power play unit) plays to Wisconsin’s strengths. The Badgers win their tournament in Madison for the first time in three tries.