With no games to recap this weekend, we get a chance to take a look ahead to the first series of conference play, which sees the Wisconsin men’s hockey team take on the Michigan Wolverines.

First, a brief aside. I love Big Ten hockey. The WCHA was cool, and there’s a lot of history there for UW. It’s where the Badgers won their national titles, began some of their biggest rivalries, and became the program they are today. That being said, aside from annual matchups with North Dakota and Minnesota, there really wasn’t a ton to excite the average fan of Badger sports. Sure, we all wanted to see Bucky beat up on Mankato and Duluth, but those matchups don’t hold a candle to the ones we get to see every weekend in the Big Ten. Adding Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State to the schedule, in addition to hated Minnesota, is enough to draw the interest of any casual Wisconsin sports fan, and is enough to make Badger hockey fans foam at the mouth. Already in the league’s brief history, chippy battles with Michigan, Ohio State, and Minnesota have brewed contempt that is starting to become real rivalry. There’s just so much to love about Big Ten hockey, and now, after months of waiting, the season is finally upon us.  Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 4.36.20 PM

The Badgers (3-5-4, 0-0) hit the road this weekend to take on Michigan (7-2-2, 0-0) at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are coming off a series with Dartmouth, in which they earned a dominant 7-0 win on Friday, and a 1-1 tie on Saturday. A series split with BU in Boston two weeks ago is impressive and shows Michigan can truly play with anyone, despite what some might perceive as an otherwise soft non-conference schedule. Led by standout freshman Cooper Marody (12 points) and perennial Player of the Year candidate JT Compher (11 points), the Wolverines certainly aren’t lacking for firepower, scoring over four goals per game. Between the pipes, junior Zach Nagelvoort, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, and senior Steve Racine have been solid, each boasting a .911 save percentage.

The Badgers certainly have their work cut out for them this weekend, but that’s nothing new for this team. A tough non-conference schedule has been an important educational experience for this team, and a 3-5-4 record is nothing to be ashamed of when one thinks about how last year’s squad might have fared against such talented competition. The win over then #1 North Dakota obviously highlights the first six weeks, and gives fans a reason to believe UW could surprise some teams in conference play. Freshmen Luke Kunin and Seamus Malone have been phenomenal, each tallying nine points thus far. Freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik has exceeded expectations, and emerged from what appeared to be a tight competition for the starting goalie position coming into the season as the clear first choice. Led by bona fide star Grant Besse, it isn’t unreasonable to believe the Badgers can go into Ann Arbor and get at least one win. One thing is for certain, however: Friday night can’t come soon enough.