Men’s hockey kicks off WCHA schedule

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoLast weekend, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team was thrown abruptly into the opening of the 2008-09 season. Facing No. 1 Boston College and then-No. 7 New Hampshire was not the easiest way to start the year.Things won’t be getting much easier for the Badgers (0-2) this weekend as they travel to Denver to face the No. 4 Pioneers (1-0).The two teams have a bit of history behind them. It was this past January when UW’s Matthew Ford appeared to score a goal with fractions of a second remaining. But referee Randy Schmidt viewed the replay and disallowed the goal, saying time had expired.As bitter as the situation may have been then, goaltender Shane Connelly said he and the team have put it behind them.“I think everyone’s moved on from that,” Connelly said.Even if they’ve moved on, that’s not to say that game is completely forgotten.“You always remember from last year Ford’s goal that got disallowed,” sophomore forward Patrick Johnson said.Instead, it may be a more recent meeting between these two schools that could add intensity to the weekend series — if any additional incentive was needed. Wisconsin ousted Denver from last year’s NCAA playoffs with a 6-2 win at the Kohl Center in late March. The win kept UW alive but ended DU’s season.“They could be using that for motivation,” Connelly said. “I just think the natural element of two WCHA teams starting league play is enough motivation for anybody.”While Connelly is in his second year between the pipes for the Badgers, the Pioneers have a new man in net after the graduation of goalie Peter Mannino. Sophomore Marc Cheverie has assumed that role for the Pioneers and stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in DU’s opening weekend win against Notre Dame.For the Badgers, putting the puck on the net to pressure the young netminder will be the goal.“Just fire shots on him; that’s all you can do,” Johnson said. “See where he’s weak and see where you can tire him out.”On the offensive side of the puck, Denver boasts a potent scoring attack, led by Tyler Bozak, whose 34 points were a team high a year ago. The Pioneers lost Brock Trotter, a 13-goal scorer last season, but they return junior Rhett Rakhshani (28 points).“They’re highly offensive,” Connelly said. “They’re talented all over, but they’ve got a lot of forwards who can put the puck in the net. They’re dangerous on the attack.”For a unit that gave up 10 goals in its first two games, Wisconsin knows it needs to shore up its defense.“Our ‘D’ meetings we had before the season started, we don’t want to give up two or three goals a game, so that was definitely something we took note of,” sophomore defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We have to look at what happened on each play and learn from it and make sure everybody’s on the same page.”Part of the defensive struggles in the opening weekend may have been a result of inexperience. Three freshmen blueliners — Jake Gardiner, Ryan Little and Eric Springer — all saw action in at least one of the two games. While all three contributed offensively, there were lapses on the other end that Connelly knows will improve with time.“Everyone knew we were young and there were going to be some mistakes, but at the same time, I thought there were some good strides,” Connelly said. “We really looked like the better team and the more experienced team at times during the game. Our youth showed against two upperclassmen-filled teams.”UW’s freshmen don’t have the luxury of being eased into the WCHA season by playing a handful of exhibition games. Instead, they’ve been thrown right into the fire, having just one week to prepare.“It’s a tough place to play in their first weekend of college hockey,” Connelly said. “They have a ton of talent. I trust that they’re going to get better. We just need to be patient.”After Denver, Wisconsin returns home to take on Minnesota. Then, they’re back on the road against North Dakota. Not an easy first month in any sense, but the Badgers are just fine with how the schedule is set up.“We want to see where we’re at right now,” McDonagh said. “We’re playing right next to these top teams in the league, so we want to continue to get better and start winning these games.”last_img read more