Alaska-AnchorageThe Seawolves finished just 7-21-8 overall last season, including an embarrassing 3-19-6 mark in conference play. Don’t expect them to finish anywhere but last again this year.They’re a young team, losing just four seniors from a season ago and currently boasting just three seniors on this year’s roster.It will be a trio of juniors that will look to lead Alaska-Anchorage offensively. Josh Lunden was the top scorer last season as a sophomore with 14 goals and 13 assists. He’ll be joined by fellow juniors Paul Crowder and Kevin Clark, who each had 23 points last year.Goalie Jon Olthuis is a question mark in net, as he posted a .885 save percentage a year ago as a sophomore.The Badgers will face the Seawolves in Madison Dec. 5-6 and in Anchorage Jan. 9-10.Colorado CollegeThe defending WCHA regular-season champion will likely repeat as the conference’s top team. A repeat run will be led by two of the top players in college hockey, senior forward Chad Rau and sophomore netminder Richard Bachman.Rau was a Badger killer last season, scoring a short-handed goal in each of CC’s four games against UW. He finished top in the nation in short-handed tallies with six, and was named first-team all-WCHA with 28 goals — again, a conference best.As a freshman last year, Bachman played like a man among boys. He ended the season with a 25-9-1 record, playing in all but six of the Tigers’ games. His 1.85 goals against average was third-best in the NCAA.Colorado College lost in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament to Michigan State. Expect them to go much further this season.DenverThe Badgers face the Pioneers this weekend and will be up against the No. 4 team in the nation.Denver is faced with a glaring void left in net with the graduation of netminder Peter Mannino, who had six shutouts for DU as a senior. Trying to fill his skates will be sophomore Marc Cheverie, who only faced 53 shots and made one start last year as a freshman.In front of Cheverie will be a very balanced squad. Sophomore Tyler Bozak will be the main source of scoring, as he finished his freshman campaign with 34 points, including five short-handed goals. Rhett Rhakshani is another player to keep an eye on for Denver. He led the Pioneers with eight power play goals a year ago.Denver was ousted by Wisconsin in the opening round of the NCAA tournament a year ago. Expect two intense series when they face each other.Michigan TechIt could very well be a long year in Houghton, Mich.The Huskies finished ninth last season — ahead of only lowly Alaska-Anchorage — and will most likely be right back where they found themselves to end the year.It’s never a good thing when you lose your top three scorers, but that’s exactly what happened to Michigan Tech with the graduation of seniors Peter Rouleau (29 points), Tyler Shelast (26) and Jimmy Kerr (19). As if that isn’t bad enough, they’ll be without their top goaltender from 2007-08, as Michael-Lee Teslak (2.20 GAA, .918 save percentage) left school a year early to sign with the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers.Senior goaltender Rob Nolan will have to step up for the Huskies in order for them to have any chance. He did see time in 18 games last year, so at least he has a bit of experience.MinnesotaYouth is the name of the game this year for the Golden Gophers. Don Lucia’s team enters the season with 12 freshmen and only two seniors — defenseman R.J. Anderson and forward Justin Bostrom.They’ll also have to recover from losing four players who scored more than 20 points a year ago. Blake Wheeler (team-best 35 points) left early to join the Phoenix Coyotes, and Ben Gordon (29), Mike Howe (21) and Derek Peltier (21) all graduated.The surprise out of Minneapolis from last year was the emergence of freshman goaltender Alex Kangas, who took over the starting job from Jeff Frazee. Kangas played in 26 of the Gophers’ final 28 games of the season and was named WCHA Final Five MVP.Keep your eye on freshman Jordan Schroeder, a forward who should be one of the top prospects in the 2009 NHL Draft.Minnesota-DuluthA lack of goal scoring will ultimately doom the Bulldogs in 2008-09.A year ago, UMD didn’t have a player score more than 17 points. (For a point of reference, the Badgers had eight.) They’ll lose their second-leading scorer in forward Matt McKnight, who finished with 16 points.Alex Stalock was the best thing Minnesota-Duluth had going for it last year. Despite his 13-17-6 mark — part of which can be chalked up to a lack of scoring by his teammates — Stalock had a .914 save percentage and came up huge against Wisconsin in a 2-1 overtime win at the Kohl Center in February.Seniors MacGregor Sharp (7 goals, 10 assists), Nick Kemp (7-8) and Michael Gergen (6-7) will need to have a bigger scoring year if the Bulldogs hope to scare anyone in the WCHA.Minnesota StateThe Mavericks were a team many people thought should have made it into the NCAA postseason tournament but were left on the outside looking in with a 19-16-4 overall record. They’ll likely be on the verge again this year.Goaltender Mike Zacharias was lights out for MNSU against UW when the Badgers traveled to Mankato last season. Wisconsin picked up just one point at the Alltel Center, losing 3-1 and skating to a 1-1 draw. On the year, Zacharias notched five shutouts and gave up just 2.08 goals per game.Minnesota State will have to find success away from home in 2008-09 to make it into the postseason. They finished 8-4-2 at the Alltel Center in WCHA play, but went 4-8-2 on the road against conference foes.North DakotaThe Fighting Sioux always seem to be one of the teams to beat in the WCHA. This year will be no different.Picked to finish fourth in the nation in the USA Today preseason poll, North Dakota has several holes to fill, the biggest of which may be in net.Goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux was one of the top netminders in the country, with a miniscule 1.75 GAA and a .932 save percentage. But he is gone, as is forward T.J. Oshie, whose 45 points were tops on the team.The Sioux still have the 2007 Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan, who finished close behind Oshie a year ago with 40 points.It’s yet to be seen which of UND’s goalies will be the starter — freshman Brad Eidsness or senior Aaron Walski. Both have made starts already this year; both picked up a loss.St. Cloud StateThe Huskies and Badgers saw each other six times last season — including twice in the WCHA playoffs. It was ultimately St. Cloud State that got the upper hand, beating Wisconsin 3-0 and 4-3 in conference postseason play. Look for SCSU to be just as competitive in 2008-09.The Huskies have two players on its roster in Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe that put up big numbers on offense. Lasch scored 25 goals to go along with 28 assists, while Roe finished with 45 total points (18-27).They do lose Andreas Nodl, whose 44 points were third on the team. The line of Lasch, Roe and Nodl was deadly against UW a year ago.In net will be Jase Weslosky, a junior netminder who made 46 saves against Wisconsin in his team’s overtime playoff win this past March.WisconsinMuch like last year, the Badgers are a young team, with seven seniors on the roster. Working against this inexperienced squad is its schedule. UW already faced No. 1 Boston College and then-No. 7 New Hampshire — both losses — in its opening weekend. They next travel to Denver, then host Minnesota and are on the road against North Dakota.Senior Shane Connelly has a year of experience under his belt and looked solid in Wisconsin’s 5-4 loss to Boston College. He’ll need the talented defensive corps in front of him — led by junior Jamie McBain and sophomores Cody Goloubef and Ryan McDonagh — to step up.Offensively, co-captains Ben Street and Blake Geoffrion will likely be two of the top scoring threats for the Badgers. Geoffrion saw his scoring increase from six points as a freshman to 30 last year as a sophomore.
After dropping two straight, the schedule certainly isn’t lightening up for the Wisconsin women’s basketball team as it travels to State College, Pa., Thursday night to face the No. 18/21 Penn State Nittany Lions.Monday saw Wisconsin fall to No. 10/11 Ohio State in Columbus, in a game that remained competitive for much of the second half, largely due to the Badgers’ hot shooting from beyond the arc. Although UW emerged with another loss, the performance against one of the conference’s most talented squads left the Badgers with a renewed confidence in their shot.Despite their impressive shooting – including sinking a school record 12 three-pointers – turnovers mauled any chance at a comeback.“Our shooting is good; we just have to shore up some other areas – don’t turn the ball over, and understand our defensive assignments,” Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey said. “That’s what’s hurting us right now, people just not recognizing who’s doing what on who; that takes a lot of concentration.”Handing the ball over to the Buckeyes 22 times was UW’s highest turnover total since Dec. 23, and players and coaches alike said the turnovers were of a different variety than those that plagued the team earlier this year. At the start of the season, the adjustment to Kelsey’s fast-paced offensive system led to mistakes that offered the opponent extra possessions, but the turnovers at the Value City Arena came as a result of sloppy ball-handling and miscommunication.When Wisconsin last shared the court with Penn State, the Nittany Lions routed the Badgers by 33 points as they shot better than 52 percent from the field and knocked in 36.4 percent of their shots from three-point land. As UW looks for redemption on the road, it understands victory can’t come without slowing down PSU’s talented backcourt.“Last time we played them, they really got a lot of whatever they wanted off the dribble and they were able to create shots for each other as a guard group,” sophomore guard Morgan Paige said. “We have improved in the one-on-one containment a little bit, so hopefully that comes through in play.”A trio of guards power the Nittany Lions’ attack, with young sophomore Maggie Lucas leading the team with 19.6 points per game. A sharpshooter who sinks 45.2 percent of her shots from the floor and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc, Lucas is the foundation of Penn State’s dangerous offense.The Nittany Lions proved in their first game against Wisconsin that if their offense can push the ball down the floor, it can quickly take over the game.“We got to stop them in transition first of all. They run, they get that ball out quick, and they are gone,” Kelsey said. “If you’re not back and matched up, they’re going to score. The three-point line, they’ll spot up, or they’ll run the post right to the block … so that’s half the battle right there.”Although PSU’s guards often grab the headlines, the Nittany Lions also boast a serious post presence in junior forward Nikki Greene. Grabbing a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game and also scoring 9.7 points per, Greene poses a serious challenge for a Badger squad that is still without its top post player, Anya Covington.Covington, who has missed two straight games due to an illness, has put the pressure on fellow forwards Ashley Thomas and Cassie Rochel to prove they can help fill the senior’s strong defensive presence and consistent scoring. In its recent loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin’s shooting kept the Cardinal and White in the game, but an inside-out game will be essential to picking up a victory against the No. 3 squad in the Big Ten.As the Badgers continue to play through a stretch that includes matchups with three ranked teams in four games, all on the road, players point out the schedule would be even more difficult earlier in the year. While pleased with the progress it has made, Wisconsin understands it needs the ‘W’ to regain momentum.“I’m glad we face these teams at the end, because I think we’ve come a long way from where we have been in the beginning of the season,” Rochel said. “Anything that we faced in the beginning, I think we’ve really come a long way since then. We’re a different team now and we continue to get better and better.”