I had a dream the other night. It was 10 years in the future. The game of hockey had continued on its current trend of becoming more and more defensive, to the point that arenas no longer announced who scored a goal and who had the assists. Instead, they announced the names of the players that had given up the goal, so that they could feel shame. Wisconsin was the first team to institute this policy.
Anyway, answering questions about the Wisconsin Badgers is Todd Milewski, who covers Wisconsin hockey for The Capital Times.
WCH: What will life be like in Madison without Brian Elliot? Can Shane Connelly handle the number one role all year? Will Scott Gudmanson compete for playing time, or will he spend the whole year being "broken down and built back up" by goalie coach Bill Howard?
TM: We're getting used to this every-two-years rotation around here, and that first year just seems to work out. Bernd Bruckler was an All-American his junior year; so was Elliott, and then some. As far as Connelly, no one knows for sure, but he looks a lot more comfortable and technically sound than he did at the start of last year. He'll be the one in the crease until Gudmandson gets the OK from Howard. The early report is that Gudmandson is athletic and is picking up Howard's system well, but it's a long process. Remember that Connelly got his first non-exhibition game action when Elliott was injured in January two years ago, and Eaves said this week that Connelly wasn't even remotely ready to play at that point. So I wouldn't expect to see Gudmandson right away. This is Connelly's show.
WCH: How good can Kyle Turris be? What do you think would be a reasonable expectation in terms of point production?
TM: All I've got to go on so far is others' opinions, YouTube and a few weeks of watching him in practice, and there's no doubt in my mind he could be the best forward in the WCHA ... at some point. I don't think that's right now and may not be this year, which could be unfortunate for the Badgers because odds are he's a one-year player. If he can get into spots where he can shoot -- which he should be able to with his skating ability -- he can hit spots like few can. I think you're asking for trouble when you try to predict points for a freshman because of all the extra variables for rookies (new level, stronger opponents, quicker pace, etc.). He could be a 20-goal scorer, but that's going to depend on what kind of help he gets from the rest of the Wisconsin forwards. If his is the only line that does anything, he's going to see the opposition's best every time he's on the ice, and that probably will limit his numbers.
WCH: Are there any concerns that a team that relies so heavily on defense will have three very young defenseman in the lineup most nights?
TM: Youth as a whole is a concern for the Badgers coaches, but I would think defense stands out. The thing that might help right away is that the rookies that are expected to play are paired with an experienced player (Ryan McDonagh with Jamie McBain, Brendan Smith with Kyle Klubertanz and Cody Goloubef with Davis Drewiske). That won't cure all the problems, but it may cover some of them. The plain truth is that the Badgers probably will struggle for most of the first half -- the coaches almost sound like they expect it.
WCH: The Badgers lost a lot of leadership after the graduations of Andrew Joudrey, Jake Dowell, Jeff Likens, and Ross Carlson, and lost two potential leaders in Jack Skille and Joe Piskula to the pros. Who has stepped up and taken a leadership role for the Badgers this year?
TM: Davis Drewiske is taking the captaincy seriously and other players are pointing to him as one of the rallying centers. He said himself this week that he's not the most skilled player out there but he's going to try to set the right example with his work ethic. The Badgers always say hard work is the base of their pyramid of success, and experience says he's the right kind of player to lead the way there. Another guy to keep an eye on is Josh Engel. He's the oldest player on the team and is going through a position change (defenseman to forward, even though he's never played forward before) because that's where the coaches think he can help the team this season. Engel is taking it in stride and has been looking pretty good. If the rest of the team takes notice of a senior making a big change in order to get on the ice, it would be a pretty good example to follow, too.
WCH: Has there been any talk about the fact that if the Badgers can find a way to get back to the NCAA tournament this year, they should have a huge advantage being able to play on their home ice in front of their raucous fans?
TM: The couple people I've talked to about that have sidestepped it, saying it would be great to play at home but they're not looking that far ahead. But the numbers are in their favor if they make it that far -- the last six teams that have played on their home ice in the NCAAs have advanced to the Frozen Four. The Kohl Center won't be the same, however, without the student section right behind the goal, during the NCAAs, so some of the normal atmosphere wouldn't be there, anyway.