Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic preview

By DJ Powers

Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006 will mark the first time since 2003 and the first time since 2001 in the NCAA that a hockey game will be played outdoors. The Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic (which is also this year’s US Hockey Hall of Fame Game) between the host University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State University Buckeyes will take place at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, WI.

The last game played outdoors was back on Nov. 22, 2003 when the Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens played to a raucous crowd of 57,167 in the Heritage Classic at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

The last collegiate hockey game to be played outdoors was back on Oct. 6, 2001 when a record 74,554 fans jammed Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, MI for “The Cold War” between CCHA archrivals Michigan and Michigan State.

The Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic is expected to draw roughly 40,000 fans.

The meeting between Wisconsin and Ohio State is a rematch of the thrilling 2004 NCAA Tournament East Regional in Albany, NY, which is also the last time that these two teams have met. The Badgers won the game 1-0 in overtime. The rematch could see a similar final score as both teams are currently among the top ranked defensive teams in the nation.

The game features a combined 13 NHL prospects participating along with some notable names missing due to injury. Wisconsin will be without top goaltender and prime Hobey Baker Award candidate Brian Elliott (OTT), who is still nursing a knee injury.

The Buckeyes have two NHL prospects on the injured list. Sophomore goaltender Ian Keserich (COL) has been lost for the remainder of the season due to an ankle injury suffered in the final week of January. Junior defenseman Tyson Strachan (CAR) is out with a wrist injury that he suffered against Nebraska-Omaha back on Jan. 13.

Ohio State coming off of a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Michigan State on Thursday night. They’ll be looking to snap a two-game losing streak in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic.

Ohio State’s biggest concern going into the contest this weekend is staying healthy as a rash of injuries has decimated the Buckeyes this season. In addition to losing Keserich and Strachan, Ohio State has also lost two of their top scorers in junior Mathieu Beaudoin and sophomore Dominic Maiani. While Beaudoin is expected to return from his wrist injury, Maiani is done for the year with an ankle injury. Beaudoin and Maiani rank fourth and second on the team respectively in scoring coming into the weekend.

The losses of the two top scorers are particularly painful due to the fact that it adds to Ohio State’s offensive woes. While the Buckeyes are strong defensively, they’ve struggled mightily on offense this season. Ohio State currently ranks 41st in the nation in team offense, averaging 2.65 goals per game.

Without Beaudoin and Maiani, sophomores Tom Fritsche (COL) and Matt McIlvane (OTT) are among those that will be heavily relied upon to pick up the slack and lead the Buckeyes offensive charge.

Fritsche currently leads the team in scoring with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists). While his numbers are off last season’s pace, Fritsche continues to be Ohio State’s most consistent point-producer.

McIlvane’s improved poise with the puck and willingness to be more involved offensively this season are reflected in his increased points production. McIllvane is currently tied for seventh on the team with 12 points (two goals, nine assists), double his total from last season.

Defense has been the cornerstone of the Buckeyes success again this season. Ohio State brings the nation’s fourth-best team defense that allows an average of 2.06 goals per game into this weekend match.

Senior Dave Caruso has been stellar in goal, putting up some impressive numbers despite a 12-12-4 record. His 1.87 goals against average ranks sixth in the nation while his .923 save percentage is tied for 14th. In his 1-0 shutout win over Notre Dame on January 27th, Caruso tied a school career (11) and season (5) record.

Another of Ohio State’s strengths this season is their strong leadership coming from team captain and senior defenseman Nate Guenin (NYR) as well as alternate captains Rod Pelley and Sean Collins.

This past offseason, Guenin was offered a contract by the New York Rangers but opted to return to Ohio State to finish out his collegiate career instead. His decision to return has been an important asset to the Buckeyes this season. Guenin has been both a stabilizing and a hard-nosed presence on the Ohio State blue line. He currently has nine points (all assists) and leads the Buckeyes with 65 penalty minutes. In Ohio State’s 7-5 win at Michigan back on Feb. 5, Guenin notched two assists. The first of his two assists (tying a career single-game best) was his 50th career point.

The #4 Wisconsin Badgers come into the Frozen Tundra Classic looking for their second win in nearly a month. Since the injury to Elliott, the Badgers have gone 1-5 with their lone win coming last weekend versus Minnesota-Duluth.

Like their Frozen Tundra Classic opponent, the Badgers primary strength lies in their defense. Wisconsin comes into this weekend’s match with the third best defense in the nation that has allowed an average of 1.82 goals per game. However, in their last six outings, the Badgers have allowed an average of 3.16 goals per game.

With Elliott out and freshman Shane Connelly in, Wisconsin’s blue line corps will be key in helping to provide support for their young and relatively inexperienced goaltender.

Two defensemen having significant roles are senior Tom Gilbert (EDM) and sophomore Kyle Klubertanz (ANA).

Gilbert’s leadership has been a guiding force from the blue line this season. His stabilizing presence combined with his overall excellent play has made him an invaluable commodity on the Badgers defense. He leads all Wisconsin defensemen in scoring with 22 points (eight goals, 14 assists) and leads the team in plus/minus (+21).

The offensive-minded Klubertanz has shown significant improvement in his defensive zone positional play this season. As a result, he has steadily grown into a more effective blueliner that can be dangerous at both ends of the ice. He currently ranks second on the team among defensemen in scoring with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists).

Wisconsin’s strong defense compliments a deep, well-balanced offense that is ranked seventh in the nation, averaging 3.46 goals per game. Even more impressive is the fact that the Badgers have 13 players on their roster in double digits points-wise. Only three of the team’s regulars (excluding goaltenders) have yet to notch a goal this season – freshman Tom Gorowsky, sophomore defenseman Davis Drewicke and junior defenseman Matt Olinger.

The Wisconsin offense is led by one of the nation’s most dynamic and lethal line combinations in junior Robbie Earl (TOR), sophomore Joe Pavelski (SJ) and senior Adam Burish (CHI). The line was broken up last weekend in the series versus Minnesota-Duluth, but could be reunited this weekend. The trio accounts for 34 percent of the Badgers total team points.

Pavelski leads the team with 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) and seven power play goals. He, along with Earl, have been Wisconsin’s most consistent point producers. Pavelski has notched at least a point in all but eight games thus far this season.

The electrifying Earl is currently second on the team in scoring with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists). Of the 27 games that he has played in thus far, 11 have been multi-point games. Earl leads the team in shots (107) and penalty minutes (50).

Team captain and short-handed specialist Burish is one of four Chicago Blackhawks prospects on the Badgers team. He is fourth on the team in scoring with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists). He also leads the team with two shorthanded goals and co-leads with four game-winners. Overall Burish has eight career shorthanded goals, which ties him with Norm Cherrey and head coach Mike Eaves for the all-time career mark.

One Blackhawks prospect that all eyes will be on this weekend is the progressively improving freshman power forward Jack Skille. He leads all Wisconsin rookies in scoring with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists). He posted his first collegiate multi-point game back on January 27th in Wisconsin’s 4-5 loss to WCHA rival Minnesota. Skille recently participated in the World Junior Championship in Vancouver with Team USA posting two goals.

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