Re-loaded Top Guns Fueling Badgers' Postseason Run
by Matt Christians/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Wisconsin’s head coach Mike Eaves was anxious to see how his newest recruit, Nic Kerdiles, would fit with juniors Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes on the same line.
On paper, the trio looked to be unstoppable. Kerdiles and Zengerle could put the puck wherever they pleased, which complimented Barnes' goal-scoring ability perfectly. It was a weapon that Eaves hoped would result in one of the nation’s top scoring lines.
“During the summer we had it penciled in that they might be a good line because of the different things they brought,” said Eaves. “When we first put them together, it wasn’t there right away.”
The group was unable to perform in the way that Eaves had projected earlier in the year, forcing him to break the three up for awhile. Something just wasn’t clicking in Eaves’ eyes, but he knew the group belonged together.
“We had to give them another chance,” said Eaves. “If you take a look at their strengths as players, you figure that those type of players belong together so we gave it another crack and things started to develop.”
The three began to work together once again, but this time finding that rhythm that had been missing before.
The results have sparked Wisconsin's late-season run to the WCHA championship game and possible NCAA tournament berth, something that looked lost after the Badgers lost to Penn State less than one month ago. That run included Friday's 4-1 win over St. Cloud State in the WCHA semifinals, not to mention the team's big win over Minnesota State the night before.
“We realized coach is putting us back together for a reason and he knows something is there so we have to figure it out,” said Kerdiles. “Practices went a little bit smoother, we knew where each other was on the ice and it just picked up from there.”
For a team that has had such a difficult time finding the back of the net earlier in the season, Eaves’ top line has done all he can ask of them.
“Our chemistry is good right now,” said Kerdiles. “We all know where each other is and we’re playing well together.”
Over the last 12 games, including today’s win over St. Cloud State, the line has produced 17 goals, 32 assists and 49 points.
The line’s success has also allowed freshman Kerdiles to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games. The Anaheim prospect has tallied 4 goals and 12 assists over that period.
Kerdiles assisted on John Ramage’s goal during today’s victory over St. Cloud State by tossing the puck out from behind the net right to Ramage’s stick, who took a hard shot while taking a hit to put the Badgers back in the driver’s seat, 2-1.
The Badgers now advance to the WCHA championship game against another upstart with an even crazier postseason run, Colorado College. It would be a first for coach Eaves and a great accomplishment for a program that started in such rough waters, but they’ll need the offensive presence of their top line to pull it off.
“Our motto right now is to keep rollin’,” said Kerdiles. “Our line is doing well right now and we’re going to keep being productive because we know that it’s good for us, but at the end of the day it’s good for the whole team.”