Greetings from the mansion. Travel day tomorrow, and then it's time to hit the Kohl Center for playoff hockey.
UMD and Wisconsin haven't met in the postseason since 1993, when the Bulldogs bested UW 7-5 in the third-place game of the first-ever Final Five (at least the first year it was branded as such). They haven't met in a first-round series since 1991, and UMD has never beaten Wisconsin in a first-round series.
The Bulldogs got hot down the stretch, winning four in a row to close the season on a 4-1-2 run that included an impressive two-game performance against Minnesota that netted the Bulldogs a single lousy point in the standings.
Wisconsin, however, is also going pretty nicely. After a 1-7-3 start, the Badgers have dropped just five games. UW earned home ice with a great run down the stretch, including a 3-1 finish after the Badgers had to shake off a Monday night overtime loss to Penn State a couple weeks ago.
It should be an entertaining series, one where each team will try to cool off hot players. UMD's freshman tandem of Tony Cameranesi and Austin Farley each have 34 points. Farley has a six-game point streak in which he has 13 points on six goals and seven assists. Cameranesi has improved greatly on faceoffs in the second half of the season, and UMD's overall improvement in that area is a big part of the team's uptick in play lately. It's also helped the power play immensely. UMD's special teams are a key this weekend. The Bulldogs are 14 for their last 32 on the power play, including seven of 12 last week as they opened a can on Omaha.
The penalty kill? Also going very well. UMD has killed 25 of the last 27 opponent power plays, and that includes the series at Minnesota, where the nation's top power play got one all weekend.
Wisconsin's special teams were basically a dumpster fire early in the season, but head coach Mike Eaves told me this week he's liking what he is seeing lately. The Badgers have been bolstered offensively by the continued improvement of freshman Nic Kerdiles, who was a late arrival to the team because of a stupid NCAA suspension. It also helps having Mark Zengerle healthy. They comprise two-thirds of the UW top line, with Tyler Barnes skating with them. Michael Mersch (22 goals) is on the second line right now, and his continued strong play there has given the Badgers a little bit of offensive balance on their top two lines.
Special teams could play a huge role this weekend, as always in the playoffs. Paper gives UMD an edge in both areas, but the Bulldogs know full well from their title run two years ago that paper doesn't decide anything when it comes to these things. Nothing.
Both teams are playing for their seasons, and both teams are playing for a shot at what will be the last Final Five of its kind. UMD and UW move on next season, and the leagues they're moving to can only dream to have conference tournaments as magical and entertaining as the Final Five has been over the years.
I have to figure these teams will lay it all on the line, both to preserve their NCAA hopes and also get one more shot at college hockey's greatest conference tournament.
And while UMD is the road team and lower seed, it's hard not to like the Bulldogs' chances. This team has come together nicely, and as long as the back end stays solid, UMD has as good a shot as anyone in the league of pulling a road upset.