When all was said and done last year, the Wisconsin Badgers probably wished things had gone differently.
Sure, the Badgers made the NCAA tournament and very nearly beat North Dakota in Madison, Wis., to make the Frozen Four. However, they struggled throughout much of last season, were the subject of much controversy in Denver in mid-January and finished just under .500 and in sixth place in the league.
This year might end up being more of the same with an extremely tough schedule to both start (Boston College, New Hampshire, Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota) and end (subtract Hockey East teams and add Minnesota State) the year.
Still, if the Badgers can abide by coach Mike Eaves’ four keys to success — goaltending, special teams, staying healthy and youth — and find a little more consistency, they’ll nose their way back into the WCHA elite.
The Badgers lost their leading scorer in Kyle Turris last year, but return the next two guys, fellow 30-point scorers and now co-captains in senior Ben Street and junior Blake Geoffrion, both of whom Eaves believes need to have big years.
Eaves also said he needs growth out of juniors Michael Davies and John Mitchell as well as sophomores Podge Turnbull, Sean Dolan and Patrick Johnson.
What also wouldn’t hurt would be getting some production out of freshmen Derek Stepan and Jordy Murray, two members of perhaps the nation’s best recruiting class.
On the Blue Line
UW lost two strong defensemen, both offensively and defensively, in Davis Drewiske and Kyle Klubertanz, but Eaves isn’t particularly worried about his back line.
“On the blue line we’ve got Jamie McBain and Ryan McDonagh who are going to lead the way back there, but we’ve got a pretty talented core of young defensemen with [Cody] Golubef, [Brendan] Smith and [Jake] Gardiner back there, so it’s just a matter of how the young men progress in their learning curve,” said Eaves.
People in particular may want to watch out for Gardiner, who has been getting quite a bit of hype so far. Just be wary, as Eaves said. “Ultimately, Jake’s gotta get on the ice and go through it. For young defensemen, the learning curve’s always a little steeper than for a forward because if you make a mistake, it’s exposed so much more.”
In the Crease
The Badgers are typically a strong goaltending team and they have a capable netminder in senior Shane Connelly. Besides Connelly, UW has Scott Gudmanson, “a sophomore who’s itching for more ice time and pushes Shane every day so we’ve got a good situation there,” according to Eaves.
Still, there may be a goaltending question that doesn’t lie within the players but rather the coaching staff. Goaltending coach Bill Howard left the program after 36 years of molding Badger goaltenders. While this probably won’t affect the Badgers this year, you never want to rule out the possibility of what might happen to their goaltending now that a guy who coached eight Badger All-American goaltenders is gone.
After all, goaltending is mostly a mental position.