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Early spring leads to a spring in the fall

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Just like the weather in Wisconsin, spring came too early for UW men's hockey in 2012. It actually seemed like the Badgers were themselves reaching spring, a time for renewal, birth and growth. Their goaltending began to solidify, the penalty kill improved and the team learned how to win on the road. But like a hard freeze after unexpectedly warm March days, reality brought an end to the season, and with it came much self-reflection. That continued last week as the coaching staff conducted end-of-season player meetings.

After the abrupt end to the season, the team took a couple of weeks to regroup and returned to the weight room with an eye towards next October and the start of another Badger hockey season. The meetings are an important step in the process.

While those meetings mark the end of each year, the end of each season can feel very different. When the ultimate goal is reached and an NCAA championship won, celebration rules the day. Some seasons end with a realization that things like graduation and early departures will give great opportunities, but also likely less-than-ideal results in the coming season. And some end like the 2011-12 one, when a team is highly motivated with the knowledge that the program is on the upswing. Improved late-season play, the expected return of most of the roster and the anticipated addition of talented newcomers points to a better future ahead.

I have a vivid memory from the end of the 2004-05 season which has come to mind on the final bus or plane ride every season since. After the Badgers were thumped in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Michigan, I remember then-senior goaltender Bernd Bruckler talking with others on the team. They were all talking about how badly they wanted to get back on the ice. Even Bruckler, whose Badger career was at that point already finished. He sounded like he wanted to get back out on the ice immediately and get better, like there were still games to play. That attitude carried over into the magical 2006 NCAA championship season and surely played a major role in the result.

After 2008-09, when the Badgers missed the NCAA tournament by 0.002 in the RPI, the team had shirts made up with that number on the back. It was a reminder of the pain of missing a chance at a national championship and the team made it all the way to the 2010 NCAA championship game the next season.

The end of this season bore some similarities to the ends of the 2005 and 2009 campaigns. There was that feeling of things coming together. There felt like there was something you could almost touch with the way the team was playing and with everyone's positive attitude. Just a little more time and who knows what could have happened.

That bodes well for next hockey season. I don't know if that means it will end with a trip to Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four, but things are looking up and the future looks bright in Badger land. It will be a long offseason until Saturday, Oct. 6, when the Badgers can get back on the ice, show off the results of all their work and take out that feeling on someone else. Hope springs eternal.

Ten Badgers on seven teams set for NHL playoffs

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The 2011-12 NHL season featured 22 former Badgers, including some of the league's elite. Ten of those skaters continue on with their teams into the playoffs this week, with the possibility of at least one more. Wisconsin featured 11 former skaters in the 2011 NHL Playoffs.

The New York Rangers, who finished just two points shy of the President's Trophy this season enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers feature two former Badgers in Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh. Stepan was fourth on the team this season with 17 goals and 51 total points. McDonagh meanwhile contributed 32 points in the regular season, second most among all Rangers defenders. New York takes on Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs.

Ottawa, which claimed the final playoff spot in the East, features former Badger Kyle Turris. Turris, who was an early-season contract hold-out, signed with Phoenix in late November before being dealt to Ottawa three weeks later. In his 49 games with the Senators this season, Turris has collected 12 goals and 29 points.

St. Louis also finished just two points short of the President's Trophy and enters the playoffs as the second seed in the Western Conference. The Blues have been led by two stellar goaltenders this season, including former Badger Brian Elliott. Elliott posted the top marks in the NHL in both save percentage (.940) as well as goals allowed average (1.56) for the regular season. Elliot's 1.56 goals allowed average is the lowest for an NHL goaltender since the 1939-40 season when Rangers goalie Dave Kerr notched a 1.54 mark. A 2006 national champion at Wisconsin, Elliott also posted nine shutouts, second most among all league goaltenders this season. He will share the Jennings Trophy with fellow Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak as the team with the lowest goals-against average during the regular season. St. Louis faces San Jose in the first round.

San Jose features two former Badgers. Joe Pavelski ranked 20th in the league this season with 31 goals while ranking fourth on the Sharks roster with 61 points. Teammate Brad Winchester has scored six times in 67 games for the Sharks this season. Also, former UW strength coach Mike Potenza serves as the Sharks' strength coach.

The Eastern Conference third-seeded Florida Panthers feature one former Badger skater in Jack Skille. The Madison native has 10 points in 46 games this season. The Panthers will take on New Jersey in the opening round.

Nashville, the fourth seed in the Western Conference features two more former Badgers. Ryan Suter and Craig Smith, one of the top rookies in the NHL, both participated in the NHL All-Star Game festivities this season. Suter finished fifth on the team in scoring with 46 points, while Smith put together 36 points, eighth-best for the Preds. Smith's 36 points also ranked eighth-best among all league rookies. The Predators match up with Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.

Possibly skating for the Red Wings in the opening round could be rookie defenseman Brendan Smith. Smith was called up to Detroit in late February and has played 14 games since, scoring once and tallying seven more assists.

The Los Angeles Kings, who claimed the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference, feature one former Badger in Davis Drewiske. The defenseman scored twice in nine games this season, but has sat out most of the year as a healthy scratch.

The run to the Stanley Cup begins Wednesday.

Skating for the Badgers in the NHL this season:
22 former Badgers skated in the NHL this year, including six who made their NHL debuts. Bolded skaters are on playoff teams.

Rene Bourque (Calgary and Montreal)
Adam Burish (Dallas)
Jake Dowell (Dallas)
Davis Drewiske (Los Angeles)
Brian Elliott (St. Louis)
Jake Gardiner (Toronto) - NHL DEBUT
Blake Geoffrion (Nashville and Montreal)
Tom Gilbert (Edmonton and Minnesota)
Cody Goloubef (Columbus) - NHL DEBUT
Dany Heatley (Minnesota)
Andrew Joudrey (Columbus) - NHL DEBUT
Jamie McBain (Carolina)
Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers)
Joe Pavelski (San Jose)
Joe Piskula (Calgary)
Jack Skille (Florida)
Brendan Smith (Detroit) - NHL DEBUT
Craig Smith (Nashville) - NHL DEBUT
Derek Stepan (New York Rangers)
Ryan Suter (Nashville)
Kyle Turris (Phoenix and Ottawa)

Brad Winchester (San Jose)

Elliott's encore performance; playoff positioning in the NHL

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St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott (Badger 2003-07) is doing something he hasn't done since the 2005-06 season for the Wisconsin Badgers. He's leading his league in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. He's also on an extended shutout streak between the pipes.

Back during Wisconsin 2005-06 season, Elliott backstopped the Badgers to the program's sixth NCAA title and led the nation with a 1. 55 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and eight shutouts. All are school records. He also put together a WCHA record shutout streak of 269:52.

This season for St. Louis, Elliott currently leads the NHL with a 1.48 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and nine shutouts. He also happens to be in the midst of a shutout streak lasting more than three games. The Newmarket, Ontario native hasn't allowed a goal in 186:33, which is a franchise record. He has already set single-season records for shutouts and shares the franchise record of combined shutouts in a season with teammate Jaroslav Halak at 15. The 15 shutouts equal the modern era NHL record for team shutouts in a season.

In addition to Elliott's individual marks, his team leads in the chase for the NHL's President's Trophy, which goes to the regular season champion of the league. The Blue have four games remaining in their season.

Elliott's Blues are comfortably in the NHL playoffs, which begin in just under two weeks. He will be joined in the race for the Stanley Cup by other Badger alumni. New York Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh are battling Elliott for the President's Trophy with a playoff spot in hand. Other Badgers currently in playoff position include Jack Skille's Florida Panthers, Kyle Turris' Ottawa Senators, Ryan Suter and Craig Smith's Nashville Predators, Adam Burish and Jake Dowell's Dallas Stars and Davis Drewiske's Los Angeles Kings. Joe Pavelski and Brad Winchester's San Jose Sharks are just on the outside looking in at the moment. The Detroit Red Wings, who Brendan Smith has skated for this season, has clinched a playoff spot.

What if the NHL Badgers all played on the same team?

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When Kyle Turris and Joe Piskula skated in their first NHL games of the season this past week, it brought the number of Badgers in the NHL to 20 for the 2011-12 campaign. Twenty happens to be the normal number of players dressed for an NHL game.

With that in mind, we put together a possible line chart for the Wisconsin Badgers in the NHL. It isn't perfect as the team would go with no back-up goaltender, one forward short and would have two extra defensemen, but as long as Brian Elliott stayed healthy, the team would be fine. Perhaps Curtis Joseph could come out of retirement as an insurance policy.


NHLlinechart11_12.jpg

Do you think the team would make the NHL playoffs? Quick calculations shows the team has 64 goals and with the number of games played by all the skaters, would be averaging about 3.26 goals-per-game, which would rank fourth in the NHL. However, the 64 goal-total would be better than three NHL teams and right in the mix of many more.

Couple that with Brian Elliott, who leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, and I think you'd have something there. What do you think?


Sauer, Johnson recognized

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Both Jeff Sauer and Mark Johnson are known for their hockey accomplishments, and will be recognized today in St. Paul, Minn., for their great contributions to hockey in the United States with the Lester Patrick Trophy. The story of Lester Patrick dates to the early 1900s and is worth a read.

Their hockey contributions are great, both with national and international championships on their resumes, but you'd be hard pressed to find better people. The two surely go hand-in-hand.

NHL.com: Lester Patrick Award a family affair for the Johnsons
NHL.com: Sauer has seen everything in his 40 years of coaching

Making sense of road TV, home video streams for Badger hockey

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I tried to put together a release about television for road games at North Dakota on Jan. 27-28 (Fox College Sports) and at Minnesota on March 2-3 (Fox Sports North), as well as the online streaming schedule for select Badger home games, but clearly explaining the streaming schedule is proving a challenging task.

Instead, I'm trying here in a more informal way to see if that works better.

So... there are four Badger home game streams available to anyone. Two of those are free at wpt.org/wisconsinchannel. They are Oct. 8 against Northern Michigan and Jan. 20 against Alaska Anchorage. The other two games, which involve both games of the Mercyhurst series Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 25-26), require a subscription at UWBadgers.com.

The remaining six streams will only be available to viewers residing outside the borders of Wisconsin and again require a subscription at UWBadgers.com. Please note the subscription auto renews, so unsubscribe when you are done watching games if you don't want to keep getting charged.

Why outside the state, you ask? That is because they are on TV inside the state. In the Madison area, they are either on WISC-TV or TVW. Outside the Madison area, Charter Extra will carry the games. Those games include North Dakota (Oct. 22), Nebraska Omaha (Oct. 29), Minnesota Duluth (Dec. 10), RIT (Jan. 7), Alaska Anchorage (Jan. 21) and St. Cloud State (Feb. 4).

What this means is that all 22 regular-season home games will either air on TV or be available via the web.

Hopefully that makes sense so far.

A few bonus nuggets. All of Coach Eaves' Monday news conferences, which begin next Monday at 12:30 p.m., as well as all postgame news conferences at the Kohl Center, stream live and for free at UWBadgers.com.

Many of Wisconsin's opponents stream their games live at Americaone.com. This year, that means streams for games at Bemidji State, Colorado College, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State should be available to watch.

I would suggest checking UWBadgers.com each week for possible changes to the schedule.

We will be posting a chart on the Web in the next week that should help keep you informed on where you can catch Badger hockey.

Badgers and NHL training camps

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It's not the easiest task to keep track of all the former Badger hockey players skating in the professional ranks these days, but we attempted to bite off one piece and find out what Badgers have been in NHL training camps up to this point. So far we've counted 25 names, with a 26th on a training camp roster, but holding out as a restricted free agent. The number has slowly increased as we discovered new names on rosters. Some have already been waived, while some have been sent to AHL affiliates.

Here's the list, in no particular order

Matthew Ford - Washington Capitals
Jake Gardiner - Toronto Maple Leafs
Brian Elliott - St. Louis Blues
Joe Pavelski - San Jose Sharks
Brad Winchester - San Jose Sharks
Derek Stepan - New York Rangers
Ryan McDonagh - New York Rangers
Adam Burish - Dallas Stars
Jake Dowell - Dallas Stars
Tom Gilbert - Edmonton Oilers
Brian Fahey - Chicago Blackhawks
Blake Geoffrion - Nashville Predators
Ryan Suter - Nashville Predators
Craig Smith - Nashville Predators
Davis Drewiske - Los Angeles Kings
Dany Heatley - Minnesota Wild
Brendan Smith - Detroit Red Wings
Cody Goloubef - Columbus Blue Jackets
Andrew Joudrey - Columbus Blue Jackets
Jamie McBain - Carolina Hurricanes
Rene Bourque - Calgary Flames
Joe Piskula - Calgary Flames
Ben Street - Pittsburgh Penguins
Jack Skille - Florida Panthers
Steve Reinprecht - Florida Panthers
Kyle Turris - Phoenix Coyotes (Unsigned Restricted Free Agent)

Men's hockey opens at No. 17

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College hockey is upon us. That became more apparent on Monday when the USCHO.com and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Polls released their first prognostication for the 2011-12 campaign.

The young (20 of 26 skaters are either sophomores or freshmen) Badgers check in at No. 17 in the USCHO.com Poll and in the receiving votes category of the USA Today Poll, which equates to No. 18. That's three spots higher than the Badgers ended the 2010-11 season in both polls.

Notre Dame comes in at No. 1 in the USCHO.com poll, while Miami tops the USA Today survey. For the WCHA, North Dakota (3/3, Denver (4/4), Colorado College (7/7), defending NCAA champion Minnesota Duluth (8/10), Nebraska Omaha (14/14) and Minnesota (19/RV), join the Badgers in the rankings.

Some context regarding preseason polls. The 2006 NCAA champion Badgers opened the season ranked No. 10, the 2010 NCAA runner-up Badgers opened at No. 13 and No. 14 and the 2003-04 Badgers opened by receiving votes, but went on a 15-game unbeaten streak early on and were within an overtime goal of the Frozen Four.

Official practice for the Badgers begins Saturday, while the Kohl Center reawakens Friday, Oct. 7 when Northern Michigan visits Madison.



Badger hockey still playing

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We're on the cusp of May and the college hockey season is a memory, but you can still catch Badgers playing hockey on television these days.

There are five alumni left playing in the NHL playoffs and all in the Western Conference. You can catch them live on Versus and NBC over the next couple of weeks.Beginning tonight (Thursday), the Nashville Predators Ryan Suter and Blake Geoffrion take on Vancouver with hopes of advancing to the conference finals. Nashville just won its first-ever playoff series.

Joe Pavelski, Dany Heatley and the San Jose Sharks take on Brian Rafalski and the Detroit Red Wings in the second round beginning Friday. Wisconsin's head coach Mike Eaves will have an added interest in the series as his son Patrick skates for the Red Wings.

Also Friday, the 2011 IIHF World Championships begin in Kosice, Slovakia. The current roster is just shy of one-quarter Badgers, with five of the 23 having skated for Wisconsin. Current Badger forward Craig Smith (Madison, Wis.), is joined by 2011 Second-Team All-American defenseman Jake Gardiner (Minnetonka, Minn.), as well as 2006 NCAA West Regional hero Jack Skille (Madison, Wis.), and New York Ranger teammates Derek Stepan (Hastings, Minn.) and Ryan McDonagh (Arden Hills, Minn.).

The U.S. will face Austria, Norway and Sweden in preliminary-round play April 30 - May 4 before advancing to either the Qualification or Relegation Round. Team USA's first six games will be aired live on Versus, which will also broadcast both of the tournament's semifinal games on May 13 and the gold-medal tilt on May 15.

Badger alum Jim Johannson serves as USA Hockey's Assistant Executive Director, Hockey Operations and is part of the team's staff.

Three Badgers remain in the AHL playoffs, as the league reaches the second round. Ben Street's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins take on the Charlotte Checkers, Kyle Klubertanz' Hamilton Bulldogs face the Manitoba Moose and Robbie Earl's Houston Aeros will battle the Milwaukee Admirals.

The ECHL has reached the conference finals in the Kelly Cup playoffs and one Badger remains. The Victoria Salmon Kings Ryan MacMurchy is the sole survivor.

Badgers start NHL playoffs with a bang

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Two days into the NHL playoffs and the impact of Wisconsin men's hockey alumni is being felt. Big time.

To start, 11 former Badgers are skating in the playoffs, the most of any college team in the nation.

There have been eight games played and 27 goals scored thus far. Badgers account for 14.8 percent of the goals, 20 percent of the first goals and 20 percent of the game-winning goals, including 50 percent of the overtime game-winning goals. Granted there isn't a large sample of yet, but former Badger names can be heard in five of the eight series and on eight of the 16 teams involved in the playoffs.

ON WISCONSIN