MARQUETTE - Northern Michigan University's first hockey series of the regular season against Wisconsin at the Resch Center in Green Bay is not only the series sophomore forward Reed Seckel has been waiting for all offseason, but the weekend he has been anticipating since first meeting Wildcat coach Walt Kyle as a member of the Green Bay Gamblers.
"I've been looking forward to it for a long time," Seckel said. "I remember before I came to Northern, I was talking to Walt Kyle and he was saying how we play Wisconsin and in 2012, it's in Green Bay. I've been looking forward to it ever since."
For the second time in school history, NMU plays host to the Badgers at 8 p.m. EDT on Friday and Saturday in Green Bay. Wisconsin pulled out a win and a tie during the first series in 2006.
Northern Michigan University forward Reed Seckel (9) looks to make a pass along the Wildcats’ bench during Game 2 of a 2011-12 CCHA first round playoff series on March 3 at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. The Wildcats lost the best-of-three series to Bowling Green State and Seckel admitted last week, it’s a loss that stuck with him all offseason. (Journal file photo by Matt Keiser)
Seckel has skated in Titletown more recently, with much better luck than his Wildcat teammates.
The last time Seckel played at the Resch Center, he and his fellow Gamblers teammates hoisted the Clark Cup in front of 8,487 fans following a 5-3 victory over the Fargo Force in a decisive Game 5 of the 2010 USHL Championship playoff series.
The Gamblers trailed Fargo 2-0 in the series after claiming the Anderson Cup as regular season champions. Seckel, who was the Gamblers' team MVP the previous season, had two assists in Game 3 and a pair of goals in Game 4 to tie the series and send it back to Green Bay.
Those memories have already begun to creep back into Seckel's mind. Just the mention of the Resch Center brings a smile to his face.
"Green Bay is a great town, great fans, great people," Seckel said. "It's a great organization. It's going to be a great weekend.
"There's no better feeling than a sold out crowd in Green Bay."
Despite the good feelings, Seckel still has a bitter taste lingering in his mouth from last season.
Bowling Green State upset the Wildcats in Marquette in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs for the second-straight year, this time costing NMU a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Seckel was the most vocal following the Game 3 loss, and last week, he cited it as motivation going into Friday's game.
He has happy memories to embrace, and nightmares to vanquish.
"I look at last year, and we were so good," Seckel said. "The way we finished, it was the worst feeling ever. It was with me. it's still with me all the way until Friday night."
Seckel's linemate, senior forward Matt Thurber, also has some unfinished business with the Badgers.
Thurber - who won a Clark Cup with the Omaha Lancers in 2008 - is a Wisconsin native, having grown up approximately two hours south of Green Bay in Beaver Dam.
He was recruited by Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves and appeared in 43 games as a Badger before being dismissed from the team nine games into the 2009-10 season for disciplinary reasons.
In Thurber's return to Madison last season with Northern, the Wildcats and Badgers split the season-opening series at the Kohl Center. NMU won 3-2 on Friday; Wisconsin rallied from 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 on Saturday.
Thurber had a pair of assists in the win. He'd like to go out this year with a couple goals, plus two wins against his former team in his home state.
"It's definitely big. It's a very important game to me," Thurber said. "I want to come out and hopefully put a couple goals in the back of the net.
"Most of all, I want to come out of there with a couple wins. Not only for myself, but as far as league play goes, it's definitely going to be huge for us."
The Badgers, who have lost three of their last four meetings against Northern, return 15 of their 16 top scorers from the 2011-12 team that finished 10th in the WCHA, including junior Mark Zengerle.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward had 13 goals and 37 assists last season and is the nation's leading returning scorer.
Senior captain John Ramage takes over for Justin Schultz - the Badgers' leading goal scorer who left school early this summer to sign with the Edmonton Oilers - as the team's top defenseman.
Ramage is one of only three Badger seniors, with 17 of his 26 teammates being either sophomores or juniors.
"They, over the past few years, have committed themselves to a lot of young kids and I think they're ready to kind of harvest the crop a little bit," Kyle said. "They are a very good defensive team, tactically very strong and have some real special players."
Sophomores Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson are back in net for the Badgers. Both made their collegiate debuts against the Wildcats last year, with Peterson giving up three goals on 19 shots in the OT loss and Rumpel stopping 31 of 33 shots in the Saturday victory.
Rumpel went on to emerge as the Badgers' go-to-goalie, posting a 2.48 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 26 appearances.
"As good as Joel played at the end of the year, he's got to do it again," Eaves said during his Monday press conference. "If he doesn't do it again, he's going to know who's knocking right on the door."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.