Badgers head to Frozen Tundra

first_imgThe last time the Badgers played at the Resch Center in Green Bay, it turned into one of the most vivid contests in Wisconsin hockey history.A 1-0 triple-overtime victory over Cornell sent Wisconsin to the Frozen Four, en route to the program’s sixth national championship.UW net-minder Brian Elliott remembers it well, and not just due to what was happening on the ice.”That three-overtime game, that sticks in my memory just because the mental game in that was so strong for us to be able to pull it out,” Elliott said. “I saw some replays of some fans in the stands, they were holding their hearts because they couldn’t stand it when we actually won.”Those fans that survived the heart-wrenching thriller will get another glimpse of the Badgers, and they get to watch UW play for the first time as a defending national champion since 1990.Wisconsin, sharing the top spot in the rankings with 2005-06 runner-up Boston College to start the season, begins its title defense in a pair of non-conference match-ups with No. 19 Northern Michigan. The Badgers kick off their season with two 7 p.m. starts Friday and Saturday evening.Eaves said while the Badgers are trying to just look straight ahead, the team’s mentality is different than it was a year ago, now with the experience of winning an NCAA title.”It has changed, because at that time we were looking for affirmation that we were improving; the affirmation that we have now is we won a national championship,” Eaves said. “We know where we stand, we know what we have, so we don’t need as much now and that’s because of where we’re at.”With three consecutive weekends at the Kohl Center against big-name teams following Northern Michigan, the Badgers know they have to focus on their first two games in order to maintain the top spot in the rankings.”Our first two games are big games,” said senior assistant captain Jeff Likens. “Northern Michigan up in Green Bay, we have to take those two [games] first, and then we’ll worry about the rest of them.”Likens leads a defensive crew looking to continue strong play, after losing just one senior in Tom Gilbert — the scorer of UW’s game-winning goal in the championship game against Boston College.With a returning bevy of blue-liners that include Likens, preseason All-American Kyle Klubertanz, Matt Olinger and Joe Piskula among others, Eaves said he will do his best to take a look at all of his defensemen, which adds highly-touted freshmen Jamie McBain and Nigel Williams.”It’s like the goalie situation, we’re going to wait and see after Friday night,” Eaves said. “In a perfect world, yeah, we’ll see them [all].”Eaves said he will start Elliott, Wisconsin’s other preseason All-American — besides Klubertanz — on Friday night, and make a decision after that for Saturday night’s game. Eaves also has sophomore Shane Connelly, who earned a 2.69 GAA in nine games last year while Elliott nursed a left-leg injury, along with sophomores Jeff Henderson and Ryan Jeffery as options in net.On the offensive side, Eaves and his staff will take a closer look at what could be a stud line for the Badgers after losing five top scorers from last season. Captain Andrew Joudrey will center between bruising assistant captain Jake Dowell on the left side and Ross Carlson, the Badgers’ leading returning scorer from the 2005-06 season, on the right.But what sticks out about this line is that all three are in their final season as senior players.”I think that we’re hoping that they have good chemistry,” Eaves said. “Jake can bring a physical presence, Andrew in the middle has the ability to dish the puck, and Ross can be a goal scorer for you. So you’re hoping a situation comes that proves why we did that.”Carlson, who notched 23 points last season, hopes the Green Bay Gamblers’ crowd will be in full form to root for Wisconsin as the team returns to the scene of last year’s heroics.”It’s a great atmosphere there, everybody comes there and cheers,” Carlson said. “You’ve got the Green Bay Gamblers down there, where they’re all about hockey, so it will be interesting to see what kind of fan support we get.”Technically, the Badgers play the road team against Northern Michigan, and although Wisconsin began the past two seasons in the Kohl Center, Eaves dismissed any belief that the team enjoys starting at home.”The kids just want to start playing,” Eaves said. “Home or away doesn’t mean that much to us; the fact that the kids get to play is what it’s all about.”last_img read more