The 2015-16 regular season begins for the Wildcats with their annual trip to the Badger State to take on the Big 10 University of Wisconsin Badgers in a nonconference matchup in Madison, Wis.
The Wildcats have laced up against the Badgers to start their year for five straight seasons, with NMU skating to a 5-3 record in that time. Last season, the Wildcat swept Wisconsin in a two-game series at the Resch Center in Green Bay Wis., which started a 7-1-1 run to open the season for the ’Cats.
Senior forward Darren Nowick and junior forward Dominik Shine each scored two goals against Wisconsin in last season’s series.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said opening against NMU is a challenging start.
“[We] always look forward to playing [Kyle’s] team,” Eaves said. “You know they will play hard, forecheck aggressively and play 200 feet hockey.”
Wisconsin is entering the season with a slimmer roster than originally planned, with junior forward Jack Dougherty and freshman goalie Luke Opilka choosing to leave the program in the offseason.
The Badgers are returning three of their five starters from last year’s sweep to their lineup this season, but will compete without their starting goaltender Joel Rumpel for the first time in five seasons, after Rumpel signed with the San Jose Sharks’ organization.
A trio of redshirts stand in Rumpel’s replacement to start the season in Wisconsin, including freshmen Gabe Grunwald and Matt Jurusik, along with junior Adam Miller.
Junior forward Grant Besse was the Badgers’ biggest offensive threat last season, leading his team in scoring with 11 goals as well as points with 22 Besse is expected to be on the starting line for the Badgers this weekend.
Eaves said his team will be identity searching heading into their season.
“As we head into this season we will have a lot of questions to answer: starting goalie, who will find the need to produce offense, who will step up on the b-line,” Eaves said. “We will be young, and that will bring energy and passion. Our jobs as coaches will be to give those two factors some direction.”
Wisconsin did not reach the NCAA top-20 preseason rankings, but did receive five ranking votes to receive honorable mention.
NMU has yet to make the list this season. The Wildcats were picked in a WCHA coaches’ poll to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the conference.
The ’Cats saw their first game-action of the year last weekend in a 4-0 exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 hockey team, with goals from junior forwards John Siemer, Casey Purpur and Sami Salminen, and junior defenseman Brock Maschmeyer.
Maschmeyer was NMU’s leading scorer a year ago with nine goals.
Kyle said he has a good feeling about his squad after their first competition.
“I was really pleased with how our team looked in their first game,” Kyle said. “Our speed and puck pursuit is definitely much better than a year ago. The thing’s we’ve worked on in practice, the guys have utilized in the game, and a lot of guys are looking good.”
After sitting out last weekend’s exhibition play, junior goalie Mathias Dahlstrom will return to the net for the Wildcats in Madison against a Badgers team that Dahlstrom only allowed one goal against in 120 minutes during last year’s series.
Maschmeyer said the ’Cats know what adjustments they will have to make heading to Madison.
“Puck management is going to be key in this series,” “It’s good that we have our first game out of the way and can get the butterflies out of our stomachs and prepare for Wisconsin. It’ll be an exciting weekend, and we’re coming for them.”