Tough schedule looms for Badger hockey

first_imgLEAH BELLACK/Herald photoWith less than a week before the Wisconsin men’s hockey team begins its 2008-09 season, head coach Mike Eaves addressed the media Monday.One of the biggest question marks for the Badgers entering the season is their tough schedule. They open the year this Friday against defending national champion and top-ranked Boston College and continue Saturday against No. 7 New Hampshire.The games won’t be getting much easier following the opening weekend, as UW then travels to No. 6 Denver before hosting No. 10 Minnesota at the Kohl Center Oct. 24 and 25.“It’s interesting how we feel as a staff, the fact that our schedule plans out so difficult in the beginning,” Eaves said. “We planned the games against BCU and UNH. We knew we were going to play them. The fact that we’re going to play Denver, Minnesota, North Dakota — that was just perhaps bad luck of the draw with the schedule.”And while Friday’s game will be the first game together for this year’s squad, Eaves realizes their opponents will be in the same situation.“There’s kind of a calmness in our coaching staff in the fact that in the beginning of the year, we don’t know what we truly have. But other teams are too in that quandary,” Eaves said. “If we’re going to play these big guys at the beginning, we’re both kind of feeling our way around a little bit. We may surprise ourselves; we may surprise other teams by going in there, being on the road — there’s less pressure when you play on the road.”Last year, Wisconsin made the NCAA Tournament as the only team with a losing record at 16-17-7 overall and 11-12-5 in the WCHA. This season, however, they’ll need to be above .500 if they hope to make the postseason following rule changes instituted by the NCAA over the summer.That gives the non-conference games even more importance down the road, something Eaves and his staff will take into consideration when scheduling future opponents.“We talked about it very quickly after that rule was passed. It’s just something we have to consider to look at when we’re looking at our schedule,” Eaves said. “It’s a fine balance between playing that tough schedule so that in the RPI rankings — that’s one of the considerations, the rank of the opponents you play. But what good does it do to you if you’re below .500? We’re very cognizant and will be so in the future.”Co-captains lead BadgersAt the team’s end-of-the-year banquet in the offseason, senior forward Ben Street and junior forward Blake Geoffrion were selected as the team’s two co-captains for the upcoming season. Both finished in a tie for second on UW in scoring last year, with 30 points each.But the duo brings two separate styles of leadership, as Street is more soft-spoken and Geoffrion is a bit more outgoing.“It’s interesting from the fact that if we can combine these two young people together, we have a complete captain,” Eaves said. “Ben has a few more life experiences, he’s quiet, he’s thoughtful. Blake, on the other hand, is an extrovert, likes to talk — probably talks too much at times, and that’s got to be part of his growth.”The decision to name the two as captains was made by both the players and the team, but Eaves said the guys in the locker room essentially made the choice before the coaches had a chance.“It’s more based on what the players see. They’re in the locker room every day, and they see the influence and the impact that their teammates have on each other,” Eaves said. “It was clear as soon as the tabulations were made, even without the coaches’ votes, that Blake and Ben were the two strongest candidates.”This marks the first time that Wisconsin will have co-captains since 1993-94, when Rob Granato and Mark Strobel both donned the C on their sweaters. In 2003-04, the Badgers had tri-captains when they were led by Rene Bourque, Dan Boeser and Andy Wozniewski.Young yet againMuch like last season, the Badger roster is young. Seven freshmen will join the team this year, and UW will also return nine sophomores from 2007-08.“We might even be younger this year than we were last year,” Eaves said.The youth and inexperience showed at times for Eaves’ team last season, as they hit a handful of speed bumps early in the year before finally hitting their stride late in the season. With another young group taking the ice in 2008, Eaves predicts a similar scenario might play out. “I think if you take a look at the pattern of last year, it was one where we had some ups and downs in the first part,” Eaves said. “After Christmas, we played to a much higher level; we played much more consistently, and we played our best hockey at the end of the year. We always want to play our best hockey at the end of the year, and I would suspect based on history we’ll have some of the same ups and downs that we did during the course of last year this year. … If we’re playing our best hockey at the end of the year, that’s where we want to be because that’s going to give us a chance to play where we want to play, and that’s in the Frozen Four.”last_img

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