February 28, 2008
Badger Bus Boys Hope For More Minnesota Trips

By Jess Myers

The Kohl Center in Madison is a popular place with fans, as more than 15,000 routinely fill it for Badger men's hockey games, where they get WCHA action coupled with the best ice cream in college hockey. What else would you expect in America's Dairyland?

It's also a very popular place for other teams, as Badger women's hockey, men's basketball, women's basketball and a host of Wisconsin high school sports tournaments are housed at the Kohl Center in late February and early March.

WCHA Notebook

Badger defenseman Jamie McBain shares the team scoring lead among defensemen with Kyle Klubertanz. Each has 18 points on the year.

National TV Schedule

For Mike Eaves and his hockey team, that venue popularity means a lot of bus rides and hotel meals at this time of year. The Badgers' regular season, with them in the thick of the fight for home ice, ends with two consecutive bus trips west, to Minnesota and St. Cloud State, then a weekend off to wait, hope, and find out whether they'll wear white or red sweaters for the playoffs.

"Because of our building, this has kind of been our life in the six years I've been at Wisco," Eaves said after his team put up 41 shots in a 4-4 tie at Minnesota last Saturday. "Because of (high school) men's basketball state and women's basketball and wrestling, it becomes a way of life. Eventually, if you're going to win, you're going to have to win on the road, so you get used to doing it."

That looked like it was going to be a problem in the first half of the campaign. After a season-opening 4-1 win over Notre Dame at a neutral site (Dayton, Ohio), the Badgers were 0-5-2 away from the Kohl Center in October through December. Things have been better since the holidays, with Wisconsin going a more respectable 3-2-3 on the road since then.

"In the second half we've done some really fine things on the road," Eaves said, expressing more concern about his team going 0-2-1 in its last three series openers. "We seem to have fallen into a Friday night funk here, so we have to change that this weekend."

There was not Friday night fever for the visitors last weekend at Mariucci Arena, as Wisconsin fell behind 3-0 en route to a 4-2 loss to archrival Minnesota. Starting goaltender Shane Connelly wasn't even around to see the end, as Eaves yanked him in favor of rookie Scott Gudmandson after 40 minutes.

"We were spectators for two periods. You could tell which was the more desperate team," Eaves said, later adding that the goalie switch was not a reaction to Connelly allowing a pair of rebound goals. "It had nothing to do with Shane's play. It was a message to the team that you've got to start playing better in front of your goaltender."

Connelly had a more harsh assessment of his effort.

"Overall I give myself a C, maybe a D, but it's not good enough," said the goalie, who enters the St. Cloud State series with a 13-13-5 record. "It's not going to get the job done, in a place like this against a team that's fighting for their lives."

One night later the Badgers did play better in front of their goaltender, on a evening when fluky goals ruled the ice. Four times the visitors trailed, and four times they rallied to tie, getting one point out of their weekend in Minnesota, then heading home for a brief stopover, before bussing back to Minnesota for another road series. If all goes well for Eaves and company, there will be yet another Badger trip to Minnesota in a few weeks for the WCHA Final Five.

"At this time of year, it's about getting points, and that's a good point for us," Eaves said after the tie at Minnesota, adding that with so many road games on tap, it's important to keep things simple. "It's a matter of just stay with it, and keep the pucks going on the net."

After all of those high school and non-hockey events at the Kohl Center are over, the building will host the NCAA Midwest Regional on March 29-30. Several of these Badgers own national champion rings from two years ago – a season in which they got to the Frozen Four by winning a regional in a Wisconsin arena (Green Bay's Resch Center) where they were comfortable and had the crowd on their side.

With that future goal and opportunity in mind, none of the Badgers is likely to complain about a few more weekends spent in Minnesota hotel rooms.


Sad News in the Home of the Mavericks: Minnesota State's players can be forgiven if they seemed distracted in their 4-2 loss to Nebraska-Omaha earlier this week. They got the news on Tuesday that senior defenseman R.J. Linder's father had passed away after a battle with cancer of the esophagus.

"He hadn't missed a lot of time until last week," said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. "His dad had made it clear that he wanted R.J. to be with the team."

Ron Linder, 51, had founded Wild Country KZPK-FM in St. Cloud a decade earlier and had been the host of the station's first morning show. He had also hosted a morning show on KCML-FM in St. Cloud for several years.

R.J. missed some time with the team this week, but made the trip to Colorado College. He'd missed practice and school occasionally over the past few months, after Ron was diagnosed with cancer in October.

"I don't know that you could handle all of this much better than R.J. has," Jutting said of his alternate captain. "He's a pretty mature kid."

As his team's bus made its way to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport on Thursday morning, for the flight to Colorado, Jutting said he hopes that the way the team has rallied around Linder is a positive sign as the Mavs look to make WCHA and NCAA playoff runs.

"Going forward the kids are pretty glad to have R.J. back," Jutting said. "One of those things that athletics can do for you is teammates can provide some strength in times like this."

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Minnesota State at
Colorado College (Fri.-Sat.)
It's definitely too early for a Frozen Four preview, but we may be seeing a Final Five preview this weekend when Minnesota State visits Colorado College. The Mavericks hit a bump in the road to the NCAA playoffs this week with an unexpected home loss to Nebraska-Omaha, which has anxious fans eyeing the computer rankings more closely. So there's plenty at stake in the lair of the Tigers this weekend, where CC can clinch a share of the WCHA crown with a sweep, while the Mavs need points to assure a home ice slot.

While You're There: It's Frozen Four time in Colorado, about six weeks early, as the top high school hockey teams in the state meet at Colorado Springs World Arena this weekend. Saturday afternoon's title game will pit the top-seeded Battle Mountain Huskies (of Eagle County) against the second seed Regis Raiders (of Aurora) in a classic rural vs. suburban, and public school vs. private school throw down.

Stick Salute

Praise to Fox Sports Net for (at long last) realizing that there are 10 teams in the WCHA, and that games at Alaska Anchorage count in the standings too. Sure, it's 10th place versus eighth place, but we're still looking forward to seeing some late-night hockey this weekend as FSN broadcasts Minnesota's trip to the home of the Seawolves.

Bench Minor

Non-praise to the Big Ten Network for its "partial coverage" of Wisconsin at Minnesota last Friday. The camera work and announcing (featuring former Badger Rob Andringa doing color) were fine but the decision to cut away from hockey for 17 minutes to show a cheating hoops coach from Indiana getting fired was a bad move. Either cover the game or don't.


• There was certain significance in North Dakota junior goalie Aaron Walski getting a shutout in his first career start last Sunday. Walski's 13-save blanking of Bemidji State came seven years to the day (Feb. 24, 2001) since Walski set a North Dakota high school tournament record, stopping 73 shots for Fargo North in a 2-1, five overtime loss to Grand Forks Red River.

• Apparently the secret to St. Cloud State's current five-game winning streak has been to not waste your shots. The Huskies have been out-shot 160-122 in the five game stretch, but have been helped by efforts like goalie Jase Weslosky's first WCHA shutout, a 37-save blanking of Michigan Tech last weekend.

• It seems like every five years or so, Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota get together after church. The Bulldogs and Fighting Sioux play a Saturday-Sunday afternoon series this weekend at the DECC. The last time the Bulldogs played a regularly-scheduled game on a Sunday was March 2, 2003, when they beat the Sioux 3-2 in Grand Forks.

• If you're going to beat Michigan Tech, the best plan of attack is to try and build an early lead, as rallying on the Huskies isn't easy to do. Heading into this weekend's final home series of the season, Tech has allowed a league-low 20 third period goals in 2007-08.

• Denver sophomore forward Tyler Ruegsegger accompanied the team on its trip to Michigan Tech this weekend, but will not play. According to DU officials, Ruegsegger paid his own way to Michigan and will not be back in uniform for the Pioneers this weekend or maybe even next weekend. Ruegsegger, who has 20 points in 24 games, has missed the team's last three series with what's being called an abdominal injury.

• The folks at Alaska Anchorage will deny it, but the numbers say there may be something to the idea that the Seawolves struggle late in the season, as the added travel burden of trips to and from Alaska take their toll. Last season the Seawolves were 10-8-2 on Jan. 1 and finished the regular season on a 2-12-1 run. This season they were 6-7-5 on New Years' Day and have gone 1-11-2 since then, scoring one goal or fewer in eight of those 14 games.

• It was like a flash flood on the heels of a month-long drought last weekend for Minnesota's offense. The Golden Gophers' eight-goal weekend versus Wisconsin came following an eight-game stretch in which Minnesota scored just 10 times.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at inchwcha@gmail.com.