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Wisconsin vs. Denver Preview: Kerdiles Makes Collegiate Debut

Wisconsin takes on Denver on NBC Sports Network Friday night.

Larry Radloff/

Wisconsin travels to Denver for a two-game series this weekend. The Friday night game will air on the NBC Sports Network at 10pm EST.

Heading into the season, this looked like a match-up between two teams fighting for a position in the top half of the WCHA. Denver was picked to finish third in the league by the league's media, while Wisconsin was picked fourth. But two months into the season, the two teams seem to have headed in opposite directions. Denver has established themselves as the best team in the WCHA, while Wisconsin has been one of the worst teams in the league. But that doesn't mean this game is without intrigue.

The biggest story heading into this game is that it will be the long-awaited debut of Wisconsin star freshman Nic Kerdiles, who returns from a 10-game NCAA suspension. The Badgers are hoping he can add some immediate scoring punch to their lineup, which so far, has only produced a league-worst 1.80 goals per game.

More good news for the Badgers struggling offense: Mark Zengerle, a preseason WCHA player of the year candidate, has missed the last four games with a broken finger, but will travel with the team to Denver. There's no guarantee he'll play, or be at 100%, but because WCHA teams are only allowed to bring two extra skaters on road trips, that seems to indicate head coach Mike Eaves is pretty confident that Zengerle will be available.

The Pioneers come in to the series with a WCHA-best 7-1-0 record, but are coming off a tough Thanksgiving weekend where they lost to both Yale and New Hampshire.

Who to Watch:

This should be an interesting game for hockey-starved fans in southern California.

All eyes will be on Kerdiles, an Anaheim Ducks second round selection last summer, after his highly-publicized eligibility case. A lot of Wisconsin fans are going to be keenly watching to see if he can be a savior to his floundering team. It is worth keeping in mind that he's really only played one-and-a-half competitive games since last April, so there may be some rust to shake off.

Meanwhile, the top scorer on each team is NHL property of the Los Angeles Kings. Denver's Nick Shore is no longer under the shadow of his older brother Drew Shore, and has been one of the best players in the WCHA this year, and currently sits tied for the league-lead in scoring with 17 points. Wisconsin's Michael Mersch has been a lone bright spot for the Badgers, scoring eight of his team's 18 goals so far this year, and is starting to look like a legitimate NHL prospect after being selected in the 4th round by the Kings in 2011.