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


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.

Lucas at Large: Drewiske's day with the Cup a revelation?

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Thumbnail image for DrewiskeCup.jpg
Former Wisconsin hockey defenseman Davis Drewiske resisted the temptation to read the handwriting on the wall Sunday; especially since it pertained to the "handwriting'' on the Cup, the Stanley Cup, which was scheduled for a public showing Monday in Drewiske's hometown of Hudson.

As a member of the National Hockey League champions, the Los Angeles Kings, the 27-year-old Drewiske was looking forward to having the Stanley Cup in his possession even though he was unsure if his name was going to be actually engraved on the Cup along with the names of his teammates.

That's because Drewiske appeared in only nine games for the Kings. By NHL rule, he needed to appear in either 41 regular season games or dress for at least one game in the finals against the New Jersey Devils to meet the qualifying standards for getting his name on the Cup, and he did neither.

But the league has been known to make some exceptions.

Drewiske will have to wait until Monday to find out officially.

The Cup won't be in his hands until then. (On Sunday, he said, it was somewhere in Ontario.)

All things considered, he was relatively confident that he could be a name-dropper, so to speak.

"I don't have confirmation on that yet, but I think I do (have his name on the Cup), I'm just not sure,'' Drewiske said. "I did have confirmation on the spelling of my name from someone within the team. But I don't want to get too excited until I know for sure.

"It's just an honor to have the Stanley Cup for a day and I want to share that with some people who have helped me along the way; family especially. I'm just excited for that. I would have liked to have played more and been a bigger part of everything. Sometimes things work out in funny ways.''

Drewiske was the seventh defenseman on a Kings team that regularly played six.

"I didn't play very much because we basically had no injuries the entire year which was the good news for our team and maybe not such a good thing for me personally,'' said Drewiske who was stacked behind Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene in the blue line rotation.

"The guys (defensemen) played really well and stayed healthy. I played well when I got to play and it was my job to stay ready in case anyone got hurt, work hard and take warm-ups every night. It was not an easy thing to do, but I'll be better for it in the long running.

"I know I can play; I've played very well at times for the organization. I've tried to take it one day at a time. I'll be ready for the opportunity, whether that opportunity is going to come with Los Angeles or someone else. We'll see. I'm trying to stay confident in getting ready for next year.''

After the Kings, an improbable No. 8 seed, ended a 45-year drought by winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup, Drewiske, wearing his No. 44 jersey, celebrated on the ice following Game 6. Along with everyone else, he got a chance to hoist the Cup and take part in one of the great rituals in sports.

"I was really excited for my teammates,'' said Drewiske, who was signed by the Kings as an undrafted free agent after his senior year in 2008. "We have great guys in that locker room who have been really good to me. The best part for me was seeing the genuine excitement from everybody.''

Drewiske is no stranger to such on-ice celebrations. In 2006, he celebrated with his Wisconsin teammates after winning the NCCA championship. Three late-round draft picks from that team have since overcome the odds and made their mark as pros: Brian Elliott, Adam Burish and Joe Pavelski.

Asked when he first began having visions of playing someday in the NHL - maybe even winning the Cup - Drewiske said, "When I was in college, I was more worried about being able to play for the Badgers than thinking too far ahead. During my junior year, I thought I might have a chance.

"I had a lot of good coaching along the way. I just tried to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities that I got. My dad went to grad school at UW, and that's where I was born, so it was definitely a dream-come-true for me to play college hockey for the Badgers.''

His mom and dad, Karen and Dave Drewiske, will be in the Stanley Cup loop Monday. The plan was to pick up the Cup at the airport and make a few stops in Minneapolis - where Davis and his wife live - before making the trip to Hudson. It will be on display at the Civic Center that evening.

"There might be a few beverages in the Cup throughout the day,'' Davis Drewiske said.

There may even be a toast or two to the Hudson Hockey Association which is one of the more prominent youth organizations in the state.  "My parents were a big part of that when I was growing up,'' Drewiske said. "Hockey is a big part of the culture in Hudson. It's a special community.''

That's why he was anxious to see how the Stanley Cup would be received Monday.

"Obviously, the Cup, itself, is a cool thing; there's a lot of history there,'' Drewiske said. "I'm just as excited or more excited to see all those people in Hudson and be able to say thanks in a small way for everything they've done for me and my family.''

As of Sunday, though, there was still that uncertainty on whether his name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup. What will be the first thing that he does when the Cup arrives? "I don't know if it will be the first thing,'' he said, "but I'm sure I'll take a peek not too long after we get it.''

He's hoping for the best; a priceless moment.  "Your name is there forever on the Stanley Cup,'' he said. "It would be an honor to be on there with all the guys who have been honored before.''
Mike Eaves used two words - "emotional energizer'' to punctuate his thoughts on the topic. Was the UW men's hockey coach addressing A) the 13-year, $98 million contracts that Ryan Suter and Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild; B) the Hockey City Classic pitting the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Gophers at Chicago's historic Soldier Field in February; C) his anticipation level for the 2012-2013 season; the school's final one in the WCHA; or D) the completion of the La Bahn Arena.

In spirit alone, Eaves was speaking to "all of the above'' upon returning to his Kohl Center office Monday following his annual summer pilgrimage to Montana. While he was vacationing, two of his former pupils - Parise and Suter - scored huge NHL free agent contracts. Eaves coached Parise and Suter, who skated one season at Wisconsin before turning pro with the Nashville Predators, to gold medals in the World Under-18 Championships in 2002 and the World Junior Championship in 2004.

"I guess that I was a little surprised that they both went to the same team,'' said Eaves, a member of the Minnesota North Stars during his NHL playing days in the early '80s. "There was a little bit of a rumor about that (happening) but there were a lot of teams that had their foot in the door and really wanted them. I think it's great for Minnesota. They (the Wild) are now starting to put some fundamental pieces together and getting closer to being a championship team.''

Reflecting on Suter's growth, Eaves cited his comfort level on the ice and said "It was like, 'This is what he was meant to do.' It's like when you watch someone and right away you're drawn to him because they have this special presence. It's their control, their skill, their ability. It's like watching Celine Dion on stage. They talk about having a stage presence. Ryan Suter has this ice presence, if you will.''

The special players share many of the same defining characteristics, Eaves added. That would include another notable free agent defenseman with an "ice presence'' - Justin Schultz, who skipped his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin and recently signed with the Edmonton Oilers. "It's a young team and he can grow up with them,'' Eaves said. "He's going to have a chance to play right away.''

It has been a busy and profitable off-season free agent market for former UW players. Adam Burish has been reunited with his old teammate and roommate, Joe Pavelski, with the San Jose Sharks. Burish signed a four-year, $7.2 million deal.  "He's a piece of the puzzle that people recognize they need to have,'' Eaves said. "He's a winner. You need that type of person to accept his role and excel in it.''

So what has been Wisconsin's role in grooming so many NHL-ready players?

"People ask about that, 'What are you doing (right) there?''' Eaves said. "First of all, we've gotten top-notch young men and they have a lot of things that we don't teach. Secondly, the coaches we've had here are good teachers and played at that (pro) level and can give them insight. And we have a total program with the things we do off-ice with the strength coaches that we've had like Jim Snider.

"There are some real good things here that are being combined with their natural abilities. There are about four or five programs that have quite a few of their former players in the NHL. And we're one of them, so it does get noticed ... our formula or ideal to win at this level is about excellence. The Navy Seals have a great saying, 'The way you do anything is the way you do everything.'''

That quest for excellence extends to all corners of a successful hockey program and beyond. That quest drives Eaves, too, particularly coming off a season in which the Badgers failed to make the NCAA tournament. "We didn't get in, because we ran out of games,'' he said. "At the end of the year, we could beat anybody and nobody wanted to play us because we were coming into our own.''

Youth was served. Growing pains were plentiful. But Eaves is confident that the returning core of players learned their lessons and benefited from the orientation, however rude at times. "We knew that we were going to be young,'' Eaves said. "Then you get on the ice and you go, 'Whoa.' That's when reality hits ... (but) we started something at the end of the year and morphed into a team that believed.
"We're moving in the right direction.''
One of the highlights of the upcoming season will be Wisconsin's appearance in the Hockey City Classic that will be staged Feb. 17 at Chicago's Soldier Field. The Badgers will play Minnesota in one half of the doubleheader with Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) matching up in the other game.
"It's an emotional energizer,'' Eaves said Monday.
Especially for two of his players who are Chicago-area products.
Frankie Simonelli is from Bensenville and Michael Mersch is from Park Ridge.
"I'm sure they're already talking to their teammates about getting extra tickets,'' Eaves said.

This will mark the third time that the Badgers have taken part in an outdoor game.

"People ask me all the time, 'Why are you doing that?''' Eaves said. "We have one of the longest seasons in college athletics. At that time of year - kind of the dog days of February - we get to do something that is unique and special to bring the energy back into the season.''
That energy manifests itself whenever Eaves looks out his office window at the adjacent La Bahn Arena, which will house a practice facility for the men's program and serve as home ice for the Badger women. The project has many other amenities, like new locker rooms.
"There's nothing like it in the country,'' he said proudly.
Jumping out of his chair, Eaves all but pressed his nose against the glass.

"From the very first day (of the construction), we've found ourselves doing this in the morning; just watching like a little kid might,'' he said. "Wait 'til you walk into that arena. You'll go, 'Wow. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?' This is the final jewel in the crown that we call this hockey program.''

Over the course of two weeks, UW Athletics will look back on the Badgers' biggest accomplishments during the 2011-12 season. The first week (June 18-22) highlights the top five individual achievements, with team accomplishments highlighted June 25-29.

In just three years, Justin Schultz has compiled an impressive list of accomplishments, cementing his spot among the best defensemen ever to play hockey for Wisconsin.

Atop the list of "firsts" for the junior is becoming the first player in UW history to be named a two-time Hobey Baker Memorial Award top-10 finalist. The Hobey Baker Award is given annually to the top player in collegiate hockey.

The West Kelowna, British Columbia, native is the only defenseman in team history to lead his team in goals, scoring 16 in 2011-12. Schultz also not only led his team, but he also ranked No. 1 nationally among defenseman in goals and points in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

He was recognized by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, becoming the school's first and conference's third player to be named a two-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.

Schultz also led the Badgers this season with 110 shots, a plus-11 rating (on a team that scored three more goals than its opponents), and one game-tying goal. He shared the team lead with seven power-play tallies and two game-winning scores.

A 2008 second-round NHL draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks (43rd overall), he has totaled 40 goals, 73 assists and 113 points, including 21 power-play goals and five game-winning scores, in his career. Schultz has also collected 28 multi-point games across three years with the Badgers.

Achievements of the Year: Decker wins Patty Kazmaier award

Over the next two weeks, UW Athletics will look back on the Badgers' biggest accomplishments during the 2011-12 season. The first week (June 18-22) highlights the top five individual achievements, with team accomplishments highlighted June 25-29.

WHKY_120618_Decker_Brianna.jpgFor the third time in four years, a Badger walked away with the top prize in women's collegiate hockey.

Junior forward Brianna Decker became the fourth member of the Wisconsin women's hockey team to win the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award when she was presented the trophy on March 17.

That presentation came on the eve of the Badgers' appearance in the championship game of the 2012 NCAA Women's Frozen Four, the culmination of a postseason run fueled by Decker's play.

The Dousman, Wis., native joined former Badgers Sara Bauer (2006), Jessie Vetter (2009) and Meghan Duggan (2011) as a Kazmaier Award winner.

The 2012 WCHA Player of the Year and a first-team all-conference selection, Decker led the nation with 37 goals and tied for the national scoring lead with 82 points. During a school-record scoring streak of 32 consecutive games that ended 22 games into the season, Decker totaled 33 goals and 44 assists.

With one season of eligibility remaining, she already ranks No. 4 all-time at UW with 189 career points.

Lucas at Large: A Kings fan for life

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UW men's hockey assistant coach Gary Shuchuk is hoping that Davis Drewiske, a former Badger captain, will be treated like a King, a Los Angeles King, a Stanley Cup-winning Los Angeles King.

"As of right now,'' Shuchuk said, "it's a shame to be a part of a franchise and when they finally do win the Stanley Cup knowing that you're not going to get your name on that Cup.'

Shuchuk, a former King, understands that the Los Angeles organization would have to tweak the protocol because Drewiske didn't play in enough games to qualify for having his name on the Cup.

Drewiske, 27, skated in just nine games overall for the Kings this season and didn't see any action in the finals against the New Jersey Devils. His last actual game appearance was in December.

"He waited for his call,'' Shuchuk said.

And it never came whether through injury or coach's decision.

Sporting his No. 44 sweater, Drewiske still celebrated on the ice Monday night with his teammates following the Kings' first Stanley Cup-clinching win in franchise history, dating back to 1967.

"I hope the Kings are able to do something to get his name on the Cup,'' Shuchuk went on. "I got to know Davis and he's a great young man and leader. When he wasn't playing, he never asked for a trade, never complained. He went to the weight room and to practice and he waited for that call.

"They brought up another kid from the minors and Davis didn't get his chance. That's just the business. But he was a part of the organization; probably a big part of the scout team against the Devils; so he helped make those guys better in practice and had something to do with winning the Cup.

"Davis is going to get a big, beautiful huge ring that he's never going to wear because they're so massive and gaudy. I just hope the Kings can do something to get his name on the Cup. Talk to some of the guys who have done it, like Adam Burish (another former UW captain). It means a lot.''

Why is it so important to be formally recognized on the Stanley Cup? "There's the mystique of the Cup,'' Shuchuk emphasized. "There's all that history and when you have your name on the Cup you become a part of that history, and they can never take that away from you.''

Have you ever heard anyone ever talking about the Lombardi Trophy in the same reverent tones, he then asked rhetorically. "I don't even know what they call the baseball trophy,'' he added. "But when I was growing up in Canada (Edmonton) all I wanted to do was get my name on the Cup.''

Shuchuk came close in 1993 as a member of the Wayne Gretzky-led Kings that lost in five games to Montreal in the Stanley Cup finals. Shuchuk had an impact on the post-season run by scoring the game-winning goal in double-overtime against Vancouver in Game 5 of the Smythe Division finals.

Not that he remembers the specifics.

"Midway through the first period, I was coming through the middle of the ice and Gerald Diduck laid me out with an elbow to the jaw,'' Shuchuk said of the Canucks' 225-pound defenseman.

"I came out of the game and I didn't know what hit me.

"They gave me some smelling salts on the bench and when our coach, Barry Melrose, came over and asked, 'Are you OK?' I said, 'I'm ready.' I'm not going to lie, I was real foggy.

"I played the rest of the game and I can remember being out there (for the overtimes). It wasn't like I totally blacked out or anything like that.

"But when I got interviewed afterward on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), I had to look at the teleprompter to see how I had scored because I honestly didn't know what happened.''

Shuchuk, now 45, has never forgotten the friendships that he made with those Kings.

He's still very close with Melrose, an ESPN analyst; and Tony Granato, a former UW center and NHL assistant. Occasionally, he'll cross paths with his old roommate, Mike Donnelly, a Kings scout.

"The hockey world is so small that I still get to see some of my ex-teammates,'' he said, listing Kelly Hrudey, Charlie Huddy, Corey Millen and Rob Blake, among others.

During his four seasons in Los Angeles, Shuchuk and his wife Michelle got to be friends with actor Ted McGinley and his wife Gigi, who's also an actress.

Among his roles, McGinley was Roger Phillips, the gym teacher, in the "Happy Days'' sit-com. Later, he was Jefferson D'Arcy in "Married ... with Children'' and Charley Shanowski in "Hope and Faith.''

"I'd get him tickets to the Kings and we'd go to the tapings of Married ... with Children,''' Shuchuk said. "We keep in contact all the time through our kid's graduation and birthdays.''

Shuchuk is still loyal to the Kings.

"I've always had a special place in my heart for them,'' he said. "I lived in Los Angeles. My son was born there. It was a special time in my life and I still feel like I'm a part of the organization.''

He was delighted to see Kings announcer Bob Miller, a Hall of Famer, finally get a chance to hoist the Cup. Miller was the original voice of Badger Hockey before relocating to the West Coast.

"Over the last 19 years,'' Shuchuk said, "I've always cheered for the Kings.''

One of his many acquaintances during his playing days was the late John Candy, a Canadian actor and comedian. Prior to the '93 finals, Candy gave each of the players a bottle of champagne to toast winning the Stanley Cup. Shuchuk still has his unopened bottle.

"It came from a special person and it means a lot to me,'' he said.

Resisting the temptation to pop the cork after Monday's game, Shuchuk said that he plans on not opening the champagne "until the time is just right ... maybe when we win in Pittsburgh, I'll crack it open then.'' Pittsburgh is the site of the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four.

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.

Lucas at Large: Daubenspeck a truly grateful survivor

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First appeared in Varsity

There are moments when Kirk Daubenspeck can't help but stop and ponder his fate. When he does, he reaches out to his wife Peggy and their two kids: Axel, 2, and Elsa, 4 months.

"A lot of times I will stop and pause for 30 seconds and give them a huge hug,'' said the former UW goaltender. "I'm almost in tears every time I do it right now.''

Looking ahead to Friday night when he will be recognized before the Denver-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center, he admitted, "I'm sure I will have to fight back tears, or not even fight them back at all.''

There may be no more fitting recognition of Daubenspeck's fighting spirit than the fact that he will be dropping the puck at center ice in a ceremonial faceoff between the Pioneers and the Badgers.

MHKY_120217_Daubenspeck_Kirk.jpgA year ago to the day -- Feb. 17, 2011 -- he was involved in a frightening car-truck accident near Dodgeville that left him in a coma due to a severe brain injury.

The very next day, there was enough concern about his welfare that a moment of silence was observed before the start of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center.

Daubenspeck, a medical equipment salesman, was planning on attending that series opener against the Gophers with two of his former UW teammates: Mark Strobel and Jamie Spencer.

Following the accident, nobody knew when or even if he would come out of the coma. Strobel left the ticket stub from the game in Daubenspeck's hospital room.

"I told Dauber to give it back to me,'' Strobel said, "when he comes out of this.''

That should bring context to how far he has traveled in a year and why the simple function of walking on to the ice will have so much more meaning for him.

"Not too often in my (hockey-playing career) have I accepted an honor like this with as much pride as I have now,'' said Daubenspeck, 37. "It's going to be real special.''

Then again, he noted, "Everything is that much more special obviously when you get to the brink like I did." Especially, he added, "Knowing what the alternative could be.''

What he doesn't know won't hurt him, either. That would be his response to any probing about that fateful morning and what he remembers. "I really don't have any memories,'' he said.

But he hasn't forgotten the people who provided support -- emotionally and financially -- throughout the hockey community and beyond.

In this light, Daubenspeck singled out his wife Peggy for "being such a rock'' and keeping the family together during some trying moments when there were more questions than answers.

"Our parents and siblings have also been phenomenal,'' he emphasized. "And I don't want to undermine the appreciativeness for all of these people that I had beforehand.'

"But, boy, oh boy, it's a different kind of gratefulness now, that's for sure.''

He learned something important from all of this, too, if he didn't already know it. "Surround yourself with great people because it pays dividends,'' he said.

Physically, he estimated that he's about 60 to 70 percent of the way back. Keep in mind that he always raised the bar very high for himself and "what I'm used to is higher than the outside world.''

Daubenspeck's standards were those of an All-America goaltender for the Badgers.

"But there have been little things I'm not used to,'' he said. "Like my speech, not being able to express my true feelings and having things on the tip of my tongue. I'm not at the level I was before.

"But if you saw me walking on the street or talked to me in a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice a huge difference or notice too much different about me.''

He's the same old Dauber who always loved listening to the Grateful Dead. Except that he's more grateful than ever.

"I truly feel like there's a family-type atmosphere here at Wisconsin,'' Daubenspeck said, "and everyone has proven that to me -- not that they had to prove it.

"Maybe I'm just more appreciative."