UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: 50th anniversary celebration, but focus on 2012-13

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At Monday's news conference, Ryan Little was more than happy to model his Wisconsin hockey sweater; bearing  No. 20 on the back, the 50th anniversary logo on the shoulder and an "A'' on the front.

Like all of his teammates, Little would like to "accessorize'' the season with an NCAA tournament appearance; a missing thread since losing to Boston College in the 2010 Frozen Four finals.

"The past two years we haven't made the tournament and it's a tough way to end your year,'' said Little, a senior from Fond du Lac and an assistant captain (hence the "A'').

"You think about that for the rest of the school year and all summer and that kind of eats away at you. So if that's not enough motivation for you then you're not in the right sport.''

The Badgers have returned to the ice in preparation for what many believe can be a fruitful season based on the experience level of the roster.

"People are giving us a little more credit this year, they are expecting big things out of us,'' Little acknowledged. "But we don't want that to go to the guy's heads too early and get too confident.

"We've got a lot to prove still.

"That's the main message we're trying to get across.''
   
The Badgers got on a late roll last season, but it was truly too little, too late.
   
"We had a lot of close one and two-goal losses and then we finally started to figure it out towards the end of the year and we were playing pretty well in the playoffs,'' Little said.
   
"We didn't' get the result we wanted.

"But if we can pick up where we left off, we can use some of those tough losses for some motivation; just that experience of knowing what we need to do win those close games.''
   
MHKY_120920_Little_Ryan.jpgThis will be an historic season; not only are the Badgers celebrating their proud hockey tradition, but they are writing their final chapter as a member of the WCHA before moving into a Big Ten league.
 
Little is well aware of the history surrounding the program.
   
"Anyone who plays hockey is somewhat aware of it,'' he said, adding that it really sinks in "once you get here and see the stuff on the walls and hear coach (Mike)  Eaves telling stories about it."
   
As a fifth-year senior, he's well-versed on the tradition. "I've heard quite a bit and seen quite a bit about it,'' he said. "There's really nothing like it - it's a pretty special place for hockey.''
   
That, understandably, has become a part of the recruiting pitch.
   
"There's no question,'' Eaves said. "When you walk into the lobby of our office and you see the history timeline, first of all, and then you see the trophy case. That kind of speaks for itself.''
   
The Badgers have won six national championships.
   
"Once a young prospect sees our fans,'' Eaves said, "and the kind of energy that they bring to a game here they think it's a little different than other sports in that it creates its own unique culture.''
     
What has Eaves seen thus far from his players during their limited practices?
   
"I think they're excited and that's to be predicted,'' he said, "after we had the type of year that we had last year where we saw great growth but we were left on the outside (of the NCAAs).
   
"Everybody is anxious to get back on the inside. The one nice thing about this year is that we will start further down the alphabet than we did last year (because of the youth and inexperience).

"We ended up starting at a or b. This year we may be starting at h or i ... and moving forward from there. That will help us get off to a good start.''

The key ingredient in the recipe for a successful hockey season is no secret.

"We've got to find a way to win those close games,'' Eaves said. "We were on the bottom end of too many one-goal games. Part of the secret, quite frankly, is experience.

"You had 20 freshman and sophomores last year that were trying to figure it out and put in situations that they probably weren't ready to handle, but we had no choice.

"We've got that under our belt now, and we can move forward.''

In honoring the legacy through the 50th celebration of past championship teams and players, Little said, "You want to look back 20 years from now and have guys doing the same thing for you.''
 
Celebrating success never gets old.

ON WISCONSIN