Badger Bus Boys Hope For More Minnesota Trips
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.
Badger defenseman Jamie McBain shares the team scoring
lead among defensemen with Kyle Klubertanz. Each has
18 points on the year.
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
"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
"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.
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE WCHA
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
"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
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
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
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
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.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• 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
• 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
• 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
• 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