The University of Wisconsin men's hockey team has won the MacNaughton Cup only three times in program history, so to do so in 2012-13 would be out of the ordinary.

It also would be forever symbolic.

UW will embark on its final season as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, its home since 1969, when its 36-game schedule begins in October.

Starting in 2013-14, the Badgers will play in the Big Ten Conference, joining Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State.

Winning the MacNaughton Cup is an annual intermediate objective — the NCAA title is paramount — but UW coach Mike Eaves acknowledged claiming the league's regular-season title one last time will "become highlighted as the season unfolds.''

Eaves guided the Badgers to an NCAA championship in 2006 and a runner-up finish in 2010, but he hasn't had a Cup winner since taking over at his alma mater in 2002. His predecessor, Jeff Sauer, won the MacNaughton in 1990 and 2000, while the late Bob Johnson won it in 1977.

"Hopefully we're in a position to (contend),'' said Eaves, whose team is projected to return 13 forward, six defensemen and two goaltenders.

According to its schedule released Wednesday, UW opens with an exhibition game against the U.S. National Team Development Program under-18 team Oct. 6 at the Kohl Center before facing Northern Michigan in a non-conference series at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon Oct. 12 and 13.

One last run at the MacNaughton Cup officially begins Oct. 26 and 27 when UW plays at Minnesota-Duluth. The home series opener is Nov. 2 and 3 against Colorado College at the Kohl Center.

Two primary highlights: The Badgers will play Minnesota at Soldier Field in Chicago as part of an outdoor doubleheader Feb. 17 — it will be their last regular-season meeting as WCHA members — and a first home series with college hockey newbie Penn State on Feb. 24 and 25, a rare Sunday/Monday slot designed around the WIAA wrestling tournament.

A secondary highlight: Perennial Central Collegiate Hockey Association power Miami (Ohio) will make its first appearance at the Kohl Center on Jan. 18 and 19.

UW has two bye weeks before Thanksgiving, but that should help it prepare for road series with the top three WCHA finishers from last season: Minnesota, Duluth and Denver.

The Badgers don't have a week off once the second half begins Jan. 4. That's why the outdoor game — Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame are also taking part — could be huge. It will be played two days after the series with the Gophers opens at the Kohl Center.

"It could be an emotional energizer for us,'' Eaves said.

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