KRIS UGARIZZA/Herald photoFor its first seven games of the season, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team couldn’t find a victory. But the Badgers’ fortunes have turned as of late, as they are currently riding a five-game unbeaten streak following a tie and win against Minnesota-Duluth over the weekend.The three points have catapulted Mike Eaves’ team into third place in the WCHA standings, something he said the players have taken note of.“I know, just in the feedback of the kids, that now they look at the standing board when they walk by it, and they see where we are and where we’ve come from and what we’ve done here recently,” Eaves said in his press conference Monday. “There’s some good feelings. They’re excited, and they’re starting to believe in themselves. I think that’s something that when you come to practice now, we’re going to be able to hopefully continue on the path if we as coaches do our job and keep getting better and better.”UW and UMD tied 3-3 Friday in Duluth as Blake Geoffrion scored twice in the third period to give Wisconsin a short-lived 3-2 lead. The Badgers picked up the victory Saturday by a 4-1 margin — their fourth win in five games.“We’re really encouraged by the things we did on Saturday on the road in a tough building against a good opponent,” Eaves said. “The points are big because they’re conference play, and we just want to keep building on that.”Eaves’ team was able to weather the early storm of tough road games against ranked opponents. Wisconsin opened the year against Boston College, New Hampshire, Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota. It took the team’s seven freshmen awhile to get adjusted, Eaves said, but he believes they’re finally understanding the concept of WCHA hockey.“The beginning of the season, and especially in college athletics, you’ve got a whole bunch of new kids coming in that haven’t played together before. You’re trying to figure out after six practices what you have and where you’re going to go,” Eaves said. “With the schedule that we had, we just didn’t know what we had. We weren’t sure where we were. We had lots to work on. Now I think we’re just starting to get our feet underneath us.”“It’s like that old saying: you’ve got to crawl before you walk and walk before you can run. Well now we’re getting off our knees. We’re starting to walk, and hopefully soon here we’ll be running and even sprinting.”Home on the roadAdding to UW’s early adversity has been the fact that just four of its first 12 games have been played in the Kohl Center. The Badgers are again on the road this weekend when they travel to St. Cloud for a two-game series against the Huskies.Eaves and his team have had no choice but to adjust to life on the road.“You talk about the road trips, and I don’t know who made the schedule, but they certainly had a diabolical mind in their headset when they made this for us,” Eaves said. “I think it’s almost that you become comfortable playing on the road. You become comfortable adapting to hotels, the food, the rinks.”Wisconsin will again have to adjust to a difference in rink sizes. After playing at Minnesota Duluth’s DECC rink — 190 feet by 85 — the Badgers will be skating on a bigger sheet at St. Cloud State’s National Hockey Center — 200 by 100.“Now we go from a rink that was 185 [feet] in length to a rink that’s Olympic-sized,” Eaves said. “It will be a challenge for us, but going on those road trips early probably toughened us up. We talked about quite a bit that from toughness comes character. We’re developing a little character to win on the road.”No update on StreetSenior co-captain Ben Street suffered a leg injury in the second weekend of the season against Denver and hasn’t played since. He had surgery last week on the leg, but it is still uncertain whether he will return this year or seek a medical redshirt and attempt to play against next season.“That’s totally dependent — as I understand it — on his rehab. Everybody’s a little bit different,” Eaves said. “As soon as Ben can start rehabbing and doing the things that he needs to do, that will be the indicator of telling us what’s going to happen in the future.”
Sophomore driver Jacob Mercep’s 44 goals rank second on the team this season. (Josh Dunst | Daily Trojan)After a close 10-9 victory against the formerly top-ranked Stanford in the championship match of the Mountain Pacific Invitational last Sunday, No. 1 USC will take on two more top-10 opponents this weekend in No. 8 Long Beach State and No. 6 Pepperdine.The Trojans are coming off a strong weekend, not only securing a championship win but also sweeping the MPSF weekly honors. Freshman goalie Nic Porter was named Newcomer of the Week for the second time this season, while sophomore driver Jacob Mercep earned USC’s first Player of the Week honor of the season.Following the accomplishments of the past week, the team shifted its focus to prepare for Long Beach State and Pepperdine, drawing on strategies that have contributed to its prior successes.“We always have a specific preparation,” Mercep said. “[Head coach Jovan Vavic] does his job and the other coaches do their job very well. They break down the other team, and what they are trying to do, and when the game comes, we are ready for it and we know what’s coming.”The Men of Troy will face their first test of the weekend when they visit Long Beach State on Saturday. The two teams met at last weekend’s Mountain Pacific Invitational, where the Trojans bested the 49ers 14-8. Although USC has an all-time record of 70-15 against Long Beach, last year’s meeting between the two teams was quite close, with the Trojans narrowly defeating the 49ers in overtime at home.To come out on top against Long Beach, the Trojans will need to play well at both ends of the pool. A cohesive defensive effort will be necessary to counter the 49ers offense, led by redshirt junior attacker Austin Stewart, who boasts a team-high 33 goals this season. Capitalizing on offensive opportunities will also be important, as sophomore goalie Marwan Darwish has a .434 save percentage.After returning from Long Beach, the Trojans will face Pepperdine on Sunday. The Waves enter the weekend with an 11-8 overall record after a sixth-place finish in the Mountain Pacific Invitational. Pepperdine’s leading scorer is senior center Chris Dilworth, who has put up 43 goals so far this season. His performance has not gone unnoticed by the Trojan coaching staff, who have focused on defense in practice this week.“Defending fast breaks and opponents’ frontcourt offense is always our main emphasis, and I think we will only grow in our form during this season,” Mercep said of the team’s preparation.The Trojans plan to apply the lessons they learned in last weekend’s victory against Stanford, which handed the Trojans their only loss of the season, to this weekend’s matches against opponents of similar calibers.“Certainly we learned that we are tougher than we thought we were,” Mercep said of the Trojans’ tournament performance. “Whether things went good or bad, we showed character, and showed that we are really strong, collective and we stick together. We showed that we really can perform the way we set it up at the meetings, the way we agree upon doing.”Despite their No. 1 ranking, the Men of Troy continue to consider their potential for growth.“[Our play] can always be better,” Mercep said. “We are always trying to improve every day. We really strive towards excellence.”The weekend’s first opportunity for the Trojans will be Saturday at 1 p.m. at Long Beach State. The Trojans will host Sunday’s 1 p.m. match against Pepperdine at Uytengsu Aquatic Center.