UW must fix season-long mistakes

first_imgOne goal. One save. One win.That’s how close the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team came to making the NCAA tournament this season.So while Mike Eaves’ team watches the playoffs from home as just the first team to miss the field of 16, they can point to a handful of chances that slipped away.Perhaps no one game or loss is more glaring than the Jan. 3 matchup against Northern Michigan. The Badgers hosted the Wildcats for a weekend series at the Kohl Center, but dropped the first game to a then 3-12-3 team by a final of 3-2. Perhaps the surprise of losing to a team they should have easily beaten on paper caused Saturday’s result for the Badgers.Up by three goals in the third period of the series’ second game, Wisconsin appeared on its way to a split. But in a span of under nine minutes, the three-goal lead was gone, and the teams were headed to overtime.It was Jared Brown’s goal with 50 seconds to play in the third period that tied things up, and Phil Fox provided the game-winner 2:01 into the extra session.The sweep was tough to stomach for the Badgers at the time. Little did they know how much the third-period collapse would hurt them in the long run.There were plenty of similar examples throughout the year. Take the Feb. 20 game against Denver. UW again held a third period lead, but again was able to seal the game. This time, however, DU’s Joe Colborne scored the tying goal with just 14.4 seconds remaining in regulation.Those 14.4 seconds were the difference between a trip to the NCAA tournament and a nice weekend in Madison for Eaves and his squad.Notice a trend? It continued in Mankato, Minn., the following weekend when the Badgers traveled to face the Minnesota State Mavericks. In Friday’s game, UW held a 3-2 lead entering the third (MSU’s Trevor Bruess cut the lead to one with 19 seconds to play in the second period). And just like they had done all season, the Badgers let another late-game lead slip away, eventually losing 4-3 in overtime.The following evening, it happened again. Wisconsin clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to take a 3-2 lead, thanks to two power play goals by junior forward Michael Davies. But it wouldn’t be a Badger game if a third-period lead didn’t magically disappear. They settled for a 3-3 tie.If there was one problem that plagued this team all season, it’s a pretty obvious one: the inability to close out games.So where does UW go from here? Well, Eaves will have a few holes to fill next season, most notably in the net. Goaltender Shane Connelly finished his senior season with a 2.51 goals against average and a .913 save percentage while posting a 19-14-4 record.Much like his career at Wisconsin, his senior year had its ups and downs. Certainly, Connelly would like to forget the season’s start. He gave up five goals in the team’s opener against Boston College — a 5-4 loss — and six the next Friday against Denver — a 6-5 loss. Those two games were part of the team’s 0-6-1 start to the season — a hole that eventually proved a bit too deep to climb out of.Following each of those first two losses, sophomore backup goalie Scott Gudmandson saw action in the net. In fact, half of his appearances all season came in the first two weekends. Gudmandson’s only other start was a 6-0 shutout win over Michigan Tech in early November.It’s tough to get a read on Gudmandson from the little ice time he saw in two seasons (he played in just six games as a freshman). Nonetheless, the starting job will likely be his to lose next year.Connelly did have moments of brilliance, however. Perhaps his best weekend came in Minneapolis, as the Badgers swept the rival Minnesota Golden Gophers at Mariucci Arena. Connelly was a big reason for the sweep, stopping 76 shots on the weekend in 3-2 and 5-4 victories.Connelly won’t be the only player leaving UW. Senior forward Tom Gorowsky is another departure for the Badgers. Gorowsky’s story is an interesting one. Through his first three years in Madison, the former Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota played just 67 games — averaging just over 22 a season.But as a senior, Gorowsky finally received regular ice time — missing just four of UW’s 40 games all year — and was third on the team in scoring with 30 points.They say hindsight is 20/20, but had Gorowsky seen the same minutes between his freshman and junior seasons, how much better could those teams have been?This is also that time of year when we’ll start to see players leaving school for the NHL. Last season, freshman phenom Kyle Turris was the only Badger to jump early. This year, though, Wisconsin might not be so fortunate as to lose just one.Jamie McBain, a second-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes — is the obvious candidate to turn pro. The junior defenseman led the team in scoring, and was named the WCHA’s Player of the Year — as well as a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.Wisconsin could potentially lose one or two more blueliners besides McBain. Sophomores Ryan McDonagh and Cody Goloubef had productive seasons and like McBain were early draft picks (McDonagh in the first round by Montreal, Goloubef in the second by Columbus).On offense, a few players come to mind as well. John Mitchell’s name has been tossed around as a potential early departure. Although he’s undrafted, Mitchell’s size (6-foot-5, 222 pounds) and newfound scoring ability (15 goals and 11 assists this year) make him appealing to pro teams.Junior co-captain Blake Geoffrion and freshman standout Derek Stepan are two more to watch, although both could benefit from another year (or maybe two, in Stepan’s case) in Madison.Many of the pieces will be in place for next season. Two big questions remain to be answered: How will Scott Gudmandson fare as the new goalie, and can this Badger team learn from its mistakes and finally be able to play with a lead?last_img read more

Read More →