Badgers look to secure home ice

first_imgNo one said it was going to come easy.That “it” is securing home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, in which the Badgers currently sit in fourth place as of today.Tomorrow, it could be someone else.Only one point separates Wisconsin (14-13-7, 10-11-5 WCHA) from St. Cloud State (16-13-4, 11-11-2) ? its opponent this weekend ? and Minnesota State. Thing is, they both have four games to play. Wisconsin has two.Meaning that this weekend will go a long way in determining who plays on whose home ice come tournament time.A sweep would all but clinch home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. Minnesota-Duluth, currently seventh in the standings with 21 points, would have to win out to force a tie with Wisconsin, and Minnesota State would need to take five of a possible eight points over the next two weekends.“We know what’s on the line,” Wisconsin goaltender Shane Connelly said.The challenge will be less the Huskies ?among the nation’s top offenses and winners of five straight ? and more themselves.Wisconsin has struggled to find a rhythm the past three Friday nights ? two losses and one tie. The first two periods have been especially difficult, in which opponents have outscored the Badgers 7-0.To be fair, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said the team hasn’t been able to practice on its home ice in quite some time because of scheduling conflicts with the UW men’s and women’s basketball teams and high school hockey playoff games. Nor has it helped that there are only six upperclassmen on the roster when the team is forced to play the most important weeks of the season ? the final ones ? on the road in unfamiliar, hostile environments like Minnesota.“I think we could talk ourselves blue in the face saying ‘This is what we need to do; this is what it’s going to be like.’ But until you go through it, you’re not going to learn,” Eaves said. “You’ve got to walk through that fire to truly understand.”With fewer distractions this week, the hope is that the team has learned its lesson and will come out fast and on its toes.“Going into this Friday you think because we have walked through the fire that we’re going to be prepared. I hope so,” Eaves said. “But we’ll find out if we’ve grown up enough to understand what it means to dictate on the road on a Friday night.”Connelly knows that a strong performance from him will be vitally important to Wisconsin’s success. Last weekend Connelly got away from the tendencies that have made him successful this season, and he paid for it.Seven goals were the most scored on Connelly since the Nov. 16-17 series against Colorado College when nine went by him. And like the Tigers, the Huskies are a force on offense.“I have to be prepared right from the opening faceoff. I have to be on my toes; I have to be the aggressor and patient at the same time,” Connelly said.During the week, Connelly worked with coach Bill Howard on reacting to shots instead of trying to guess where the puck was going. Connelly said he was moving too much, thereby not positioning himself to make the saves.“You’re only as good as your next game, so I’m looking to go out and prove myself.”Led by Andreas Nodl, Ryan Lasch and Garrett Roe ? who have 55 goals and 121 points combined ? the Huskies like to get out into the open ice and score.For Badger freshman Kyle Turris, who hasn’t scored in six games, this weekend’s faster-style play is something to look forward to.“I’m excited to get out there,” said Turris, the team leader with 30 points. “It just kind of opens up the game and allows for more rushes and everybody getting involved.”Injury UpdateFreshman defenseman Brendan Smith will be making the trip. It is unlikely that he’ll play, however.Eaves said it’s to get Smith, who has missed 13 straight games with a back injury, into the routine of being around the team again.“We’re wrapping up what we want to get done with him,” Eaves said. “He needs to start to get around us and get closer to start thinking about playing.”Sophomore defenseman Jaime McBain, who sat out last Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an injured knee, is listed as “probable.”last_img

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