Badgers relying on youth
Saturday night the Wisconsin men’s hockey team (3-1-2, 2-1-1 WCHA) showed how it will reap the benefits of last year’s national championship for years to come. The Badgers handed Minnesota-Duluth its first loss of the season due in large part to the significant contributions of a highly talented freshman class.Injuries to UW forwards Jack Skille and Ross Carlson and defenseman Kyle Klubertanz has given UW head coach Mike Eaves a chance to get some mileage from his youngsters, and so far they have not disappointed. In Saturday’s 5-2 victory, Jamie McBain and Ben Grotting netted their first-career goals while three other Badgers recorded their first assists. “Well it was definitely a positive and you sure hope those kids are getting their first goals because they are getting opportunities,” Eaves said. “I know they are thrilled and their teammates were thrilled for them so now they can cross that off the to do list and get back to playing.”With Wisconsin down 1-0, Grotting evened the score at one as freshmen John Mitchell and Andy Bohmbach garnered their first assists and points as Badgers on the play. Blake Geoffrion also recorded his first point as a Badger, assisting on Ben Steeets’ first-period goal. With 12 seconds remaining in a dismal second period for the Badgers, McBain sent Wisconsin to the locker room with a lead, and more importantly, something to build on. In the home-opener against North Dakota, McBain misplayed the puck in overtime allowing UND to steal a come-from-behind victory at the Kohl Center. Eaves, however, feels McBain has the right mindset to be a successful defenseman at the collegiate level. “For him (McBain) to be a defenseman in this league and to make that adjustment, it’s a big step,” Eaves said. “I like his attitude because he’s got a perfect mindset like a defensive back in football, he kind of lets it roll off and he gets ready for the next shift and that will benefit him down the line.” Eaves outlined tentative time tables for the injured players’ return. Klubertanz is week-to-week, Carlson should be ready within four weeks while Skille is expected to be sidelined for the next four to six weeks. In the meantime, one of the best recruiting classes in the nation will have to maintain their high level of play in order for the Badgers to be successful. Contrasting StylesMuch of the Badgers’ success this weekend came at the expense of goaltender Alex Stalock. The freshman netminder is not afraid to venture outside the crease and oftentimes acts as a third defenseman, making outlet passes to his forwards. While Eaves has respect for Stalock and his ambitious play, he is quite content with Elliott’s consistent goaltending and positioning. “I’d much rather have our style of goaltending,” Eaves said. “Mr. Stalock stopped the puck but there were a few times where there were people in the net behind him and you could see how active he is; it’s a little bit of an adventure, but the bottom line is that he stops the pucks … I know as a coach I would probably have a few more gray hairs with that style.” Elliott on the other hand was a rock of stability in net all weekend including a 34-save effort Saturday night. Last year’s Hobby Baker Award finalist withstood some defensive lapses to give the Badgers a chance to win both nights. “There were a lot of breakdowns and a lot of turnovers in our own zone,” Eaves said. “He (Elliott) was there as our backbone, and he allowed us to have a short-term memory.”Getting DirtyAfter losing three of their top six scorers from a year ago against North Dakota last weekend, Eaves has the Badgers playing a tough grind-it-out style to overcome the loss of scoring. For senior assistant captain Jake Dowell that means playing the same style he has played his whole life. Eaves maintains that the Wisconsin native is the poster boy for the team’s identity. “I don’t know, but it’s definitely not the looks,” Dowell said jokingly of being the team poster boy. “I think he (coach Eaves) was talking about how I don’t mind getting in and playing dirty and physical … I think that’s what he means, and our identity is our hard work; and I have never been a finesse player, but you know hard work obviously pays off.”Saturday Dowell scored two goals, much to the delight of his father, who was watching his son for the first time at the Kohl Center.”I have been waiting for him to come down for over a year now and it was an awesome feeling to be able to play in front of him to see him … I knew exactly where he was and to be able to get a goal and to have him see it meant the world to me,” Dowell said.