Lambeau Field will truly become the frozen tundra this weekend when the Badgers travel to Green Bay for the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic against Ohio State on Saturday.
The game will be the third major North American hockey game played outside in the last six years. Michigan and Michigan State battled it out in front of 74,554 fans at Spartan Stadium in 2001, and the Edmonton Oilers took on the Montreal Canadians in -30 degree wind chills in 2003.
Forecasts for Saturday show chances of flurries with temperatures in the mid-20s. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves believes competing with the elements is just one of the things that makes outdoor hockey different than playing in an arena.
“Playing outside has a uniqueness about it that is hard to relay to people who have never played outside — the sound that the skates make when they cut the ice, the sound that the puck makes on your stick when you catch a pass or slap a pass,” Eaves said.
Eaves thinks those aspects of playing outside should bring back some enjoyable memories for his players.
“It takes you back to the last time you played as a child,” Eaves said. “That’s what will be fun for a lot of the kids who have skated outside is to revisit that time in your life … when you skated outside.”
The trip to Green Bay is the second in a four-week run of road series for the Badgers, who will spend the entire month of February playing away from the Kohl Center. It is also a game during a weekend the Badgers could have off, but Eaves doesn’t think the game will make his Badgers weary.
“We think it’s a good change of pace,” Eaves said of the Lambeau game. “We’re in the mix of playing eight straight weekends, and this is a little bit of a diversion.”
Eaves maintained the weekend game will be more about having fun and getting a break from the rigors of a long college hockey season. That won’t let this weekend sidetrack his team, however.
“We only play one game, and we’re giving them another day off this week,” Eaves said about the possible distraction of the Ohio State game. “We could have this week off totally … but I think this will re-energize the kids as we get going after this weekend.”
High Expectations for Elliott
When Brian Elliott returns to play against Michigan Tech in two weeks, coming back from a leg injury he sustained two weeks ago in practice, he will once again face questions of ability.
This time, however, his ability to play in net won’t be questioned. He has already proven quite sufficient in that regard. Elliott will have to prove he can maintain the level of play he was performing at before he went down after missing four weekends to injury.
“There are indicators that he should do alright when he comes back,” Eaves said of his junior goalie. “We’ll find out together because we’re getting near the end of the season, and that’s a little different circumstance.”
Elliott has shown Badger coaches and players all season long he has the mentality to come back from whatever a season can throw at him. When he gave up the game-winning goal in overtime against St. Lawrence in the second game of the season, Elliott was hard on himself afterward but responded with solid performances in net the following weeks.
“I think he has the mindset to understand what his job is and keep everything in perspective,” Eaves said. “That’s what history would tell us.”
Although coming back from a four-week layover due to injury is different from responding to a bad game, Eaves is confident his young goaltender can do it.
“This is a little bit different of a situation, coming back off an injury, but he came back off his other injury earlier in the year and played back-to-back games right away,” Eaves said. “If history repeats itself, we think he’ll be fine.”
Team plays differently in front of Connelly
In Elliott’s absence, Shane Connelly has taken over goaltending duties for the Badgers. While he has performed admirably, the freshman has experienced the struggles that many predicted he would.
Since coming in for Elliott, Connelly has given up an average of 3.19 goals per game and posted a save percentage of just .871 while going 1-5-0. His record, according to Eaves, may not only be an indication of his play, but how his team plays in front of him as well.
“When Brian was in net, he created a relationship with the people in front of him, and they play different in front of Brian,” Eaves said. “They’re trying to get to that same type of relationship with Shane.”
Until the Badgers’ seven-goal outburst on Friday night in Duluth, they had only averaged 1.75 goals per game for Connelly compared to the 3.79 goals per game the team scored for Elliott prior to his injury.
“There’s no question they [play differently],” Eaves said of the rest of the team. “They knew what they had back there with Brian. They’re trying to discover what they have back there with Shane right now.”