Although they are the reigning national champions and have been placed at the top of the polls by preseason voters, it seems that repeating is not the word on UW head coach Mike Eaves’ mind.
“A lot of talk has been about repeating,” Eaves said. “I don’t know if repeating is the right term in college hockey because when you lose seven key people and you plop in nine freshmen that try to fill those roles it’s a difficult task.
“But our goal is always to be at the top at the end of the year, and we’re going to have to go through an evolution this year as far as who’s going to fill some holes for us.”
There are plenty of holes. It was bad enough with the five graduating seniors. Three of them were in the top five in scoring for the Badgers last year, but more importantly the team lost five extremely valuable and inspirational leaders.
But UW took an even bigger hit in the weeks and months following their championship run when they lost their top two scorers — Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski — to the professional ranks.
That leaves Ross Carlson (11-12-23) and Jack Skille (13-8-21) as the team’s top returners on a team with a multitude of veteran leaders who could speed up the transition for a talented freshman class.
“We have a good crop of seniors this year and so far they’ve done a nice job of bringing our freshmen along,” Eaves said. “You can’t put a price on that.”
More importantly, Wisconsin returns senior goalie Brian Elliott. A Hobey Baker finalist last season, he was tabbed by the league’s coaches as the Preseason Player of the Year.
He etched his name in the Badger record books last year, beating out some pretty talented goaltenders who have come through Wisconsin over the years.
If he puts up numbers even remotely close to his statistics last year, the Badgers should be in good shape despite the losses up front.
That said, fans could be in store for plenty of 2-1 games, especially early on.
Carlson is steady and can always be counted on for 20-25 points, and a real candidate to stand out will be Skille. He came on during the second half of his rookie year, including the game-winning goal in the epic 1-0 triple-overtime win over Cornell in the NCAA regionals.
Fellow sophomore Ben Street also put up a 10-goal effort in his first year and showed flashes of brilliance.
Outside of that, everything seems based on potential and Wisconsin will probably see quite a few players around the 10-goal mark.
Jake Dowell and Andrew Joudrey, as leaders, are putting pressure on themselves to step up. Matthew Ford and Tom Gorowsky will get the chance they have been looking for and might make the most of it.
And watch for rookie Blake Geoffrion to make the most immediate rookie impact up front.
On the Blue Line
The Badgers have great depth here, bringing back six players who saw extensive action a year ago. In fact, with a couple of talented rookies coming onto the scene, some of those players will find themselves battling for lineup spots.
Wisconsin did lose All-League defenseman Tom Gilbert, but assistant captain Jeff Likens will bring energy and junior Kyle Klubertanz looks poised to break out after a couple years of tutelage.
In the Crease
Elliott was among the top three players in the country last year, yet was voted second-team All-WCHA. That said, the senior has the talent to put up similar numbers to last season and more importantly, seems to have the right mindset to make sure he does not get complacent after such an impressive season.
Sophomore Shane Connelly filled in when Elliott was injured last season. He showed he will be capable of taking over the starting role, and may get some spot starts to get a little more experience along the way.