While the Wisconsin men’s hockey team continues to try to build up confidence in freshman goalie Shane Connelly, junior standout Brian Elliott is on the mend ahead of schedule, UW head coach Mike Eaves said Tuesday.
Elliott, one of the premier goaltenders in the nation, went down in practice two weeks ago with a left leg injury that was expected to sideline him for three to four weeks.
Although he said last week that he didn’t expect to play Elliott when the Badgers take on Ohio State at Lambeau Field, it sounds like the chances of the goalie being close to ready by that point might not be so far-fetched.
“[He’s] ahead of schedule, I would say so,” Eaves said. “That’s a positive.”
“The doctors have been reassuring in that area that I’m coming along quicker than expected,” Elliott said. “Every day it’s been getting better and better.”
Elliott has been making progress by working in a pool and on a stationary bike, which doctors told him he could do about a week ago.
The Newmarket, Ontario, native said the plan is to lace up the skates Wednesday and return to the ice for some light work just to test out the strength of his leg.
“Should be doing that and see how it feels, nothing too hard or too special, but go out there and see how it feels,” Elliott said. “I’ll have to be careful not to catch a rut or something.”
With that said, Eaves said that he was not going to risk bringing Elliott back before he was 100 percent ready, so seeing Elliott between the pipes in Green Bay, Wis., may not be very likely.
“That’s a best-case scenario. Even in that best-case scenario, we would have to take a look at very clearly, he would have to be 95 percent to 100 percent to be ready to go,” Eaves said.
“The only thing is not to rush it, to be careful not to re-injure it,” Elliott said.
Elliott knows all about being patient in regards to injury. He will benefit from the fact that he had to return from a foot injury before this season started.
“I think I learned a lot from that experience,” Elliott said. “Waiting six weeks to start going again was hard, but you learn to respect that your body has to have time to heal, especially things like a knee or small bones at the start of the year.”
“Remember when he came back from his foot he just stepped right in there and didn’t miss a beat,” Eaves said.
Eaves reminisced about his days of playing in the NHL, at venues such as Madison Square Garden, which is used for basketball, among other events.
He said he remembered guys being injured in warm-ups because the quality of the ice had been hampered by other events.
“I’d have to take a look at that ice system, for one thing, and see how it is.”
Regardless of whether he is ready to go for the game against Ohio State, Elliott’s progress bodes well for the Badgers, who are 0-4-0 without their starting backstop.
“The further ahead of schedule [he is] — even if we don’t play him at Lambeau — then we know he’s that much further being ready to play at Michigan Tech,” Eaves said.
After the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic, the Badgers’ next stop is against the Huskies, where Elliott would play a key role in UW’s stretch run.
Elliott will be home resting his leg and watching his teammates take on Minnesota-Duluth at the DECC in Duluth, Minn., this weekend.
While the team continues to try to build confidence in Connelly behind them, the rookie goalie remains confident in himself.
Despite being 0-4 with a 3.29 goals against average and a .865 save percentage in his first four games, the Cheltenham, Penn., native is keeping his head high.
“[My confidence] is pretty good actually,” Connelly said. “Obviously, [when] you don’t win people might think it’s going down, but I’ve made a lot of strides and got better in practice each day and I’m just more comfortable in there, so I think my confidence level is pretty good right now.”
He has given up 13 goals in four games, but like Eaves said Monday, it was like throwing him into the Pacific Ocean as they took on two of the toughest teams in the league, if not the country, the last two weeks.
“Obviously I want to be better than I was. There are a few errors that I feel I’ve made on a Saturday that I haven’t made on a Friday night conditioning-wise,” Connelly said. “I think I need to keep doing what I’m doing Friday night and concentrate as I get worn down more throughout the weekend.”
Minnesota-Duluth currently sits at ninth out of 10 teams in the WCHA.