There’s no question that last weekend was a special one for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team — the weekend included a game at Lambeau Field, outdoors in front of more than 40,000 fans. Now the challenge for the Badgers will be to try and carry the energy from the victory at Green Bay back into WCHA play.
Just one month ago, many figured that UW had the league wrapped up when it was out in front in the standings by eight points. Wisconsin saw that lead evaporate and now sits in third place — two points behind Denver and one back of Minnesota — with just three weeks to play.
“Well, I hope the energy will continue. It was probably as good an emotional energizer as we could have hoped for,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said at a Monday press conference. “[We’ll] just take that energy this week and build on it.”
Now that the dust has settled from the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic, the Badgers know that it is right back to business. Eaves said he resumed his normal schedule Sunday by breaking down Saturday’s game with Ohio State on tape.
“It’s the same process that we always go through,” Eaves said. “We’re going to give them feedback of things they did well and things they could do better and continue to grow as far as being a good hockey team.”
Part of the challenge down the stretch for the Badgers will be to buck their current struggles. They lost their stronghold by losing five of their last six league games.
And this isn’t the first time that UW has seen its share of struggles in the second half of a season. Wisconsin limped into postseason action a year ago, winning just one of its last nine regular-season games and was up-and-down in the second half of its season two years ago.
But Eaves has reason to believe that this year is different from the past two.
“I think the differences this year are we are older. I think we have more experience. The lessons from last year I think our kids have applied,” Eaves said. “And we’re getting a key member of our personnel back.”
That key member is starting goaltender Brian Elliott. The junior has been out of the lineup for the stretch of struggles the Badgers have endured and the team is hoping to have its backbone back this weekend at Michigan Tech.
Eaves said Elliott was scheduled to practice Monday afternoon with goaltending coach Bill Howard and his status for this weekend would be evaluated at that time.
Wisconsin would love to have back arguably the best goalie in the country. Elliott leads the nation with a 1.40 goals against average and a .944 save percentage in 22 games this year.
Whether he’s back or not, the Badgers will look to gain ground on the WCHA front-runners this weekend when they visit the Huskies, especially with Denver and Minnesota squaring off against each other.
No bad blood with Huskies
When Michigan Tech visited Madison, Wis., in the final WCHA series before Winter Break in December, the two teams squared off on the ice in more ways than one.
While the Huskies handed the Badgers their first league loss of the season on Friday, the weekend also featured 213 minutes worth of penalties, 151 of them coming in Saturday’s 7-0 Wisconsin victory.
The teams and the league are doing all that they can heading into this weekend to make sure that a similar situation does not occur when the Badgers travel to Houghton, Mich.
“I talked to [WCHA head of officials] Greg Shepherd today. He’s talked to both coaches. The referee is going to be informed of the situation,” Eaves said. “But college hockey isn’t built around revenge. We’ve talked about it with our team and their coach is going to talk about it with their team.”