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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Banged up Badgers geared up for grueling playoff run

The University of Wisconsin men's hockey team will begin what is arguably the most grueling month in college sports this weekend: The college hockey playoffs.

The Badgers host a best-of-three series against conference foe Michigan Tech this weekend, which will begin a run that the Badgers hope will end Apr. 8 in the Frozen Four championship game in Milwaukee.

From the pros down to high school, hockey playoffs reach another level of intensity. That passion lasts until the final second of the playoffs and will test any player's mettle, according to Badgers head coach Mike Eaves.


"You have to be able to play at a higher level, and I don't think earplugs are going to do any good," Eaves said of the metaphorical noise blockers in the playoffs. "I want earplugs out. I want our guys turning the volume up."

The Badgers head into the playoffs hurting both in body and in mind. Wisconsin hit bottom two weekends ago when they were swept at the hands of lowly Minnesota State-Mankato with goaltender Brian Elliott back from injury and looking lost.

Elliott apparently found his form this weekend in a sweep of St. Cloud State, but the Badgers head into the playoffs missing forward Andrew Joudrey and defenseman Joe Piskula, two keys to the feisty Badger defense.

Eaves believes this weekend's series against Michigan Tech will not only start their playoff run, but will serve as a point from which to push off.

"Using that analogy that we weren't feeling very well, we're still getting better, and that's why I think this weekend is really important for us," Eaves said. "I think this weekend could be another step in us getting back to playing even closer to where we were before Brian's injury and having that confidence and that feeling from within."

Deceptively deep defense

When Joe Piskula blocked a shot Friday night, it sidelined him for two to four weeks, creating questions about the haughty Badger defense.

Eaves thinks depth at defense is really not an issue at all, however. Josh Engel, who played in Piskula's place Saturday night, played surprisingly well and should be an asset as the team heads into its playoff run.

"He hasn't played in a long time, and he jumped in and did very well," Eaves said of Engel. "When you can go up to a defenseman after a game and say, 'You know what, I didn't notice you, you've done your job well,' and Josh did a lot of good things for not being in the lineup."

Engel, a sophomore out of Rice Lake, Wis., has seen limited playing time this season but should see much more in the absence of Piskula, the team's No. 2 defender. Eaves paired Engel up with assistant captain Tom Gilbert on defense for Saturday's game.

"We had even toyed about the factor of maybe even getting him in a game this weekend because of a depth factor and keeping him sharp," Eaves said. "Unfortunately it happened because of an injury to Joe [Piskula]."

Eaves also said forward Andy Brandt has been taking some reps as a defenseman in practice just in case he is needed to bolster the defensive corps. He also said Joudrey could fill in should he return before Piskula.

If nothing else, Eaves said, a team can survive with fewer than six defensemen.

"One of the things you do, I know in the minor leagues when you're coaching, a lot of times you play with four or five defensemen because that's all you have healthy," Eaves said. "If you need to, you can drop to those numbers."

Scoring early a priority

When Joe Pavelski scored a goal 51 seconds into the game Saturday night, it was the fifth time this season the Badgers have scored in the first minute of regulation, and the tenth time they have scored in the first four minutes.

"We have a sign in our locker room before we go out for games — [it reads] Great Start," Eaves explained. "It's part of who we are."

The Badgers are 7-3 when they score within the first four minutes, and they are 4-1 when they score in the first minute. Scoring early and getting off to a good start has been a priority for the Badgers since Eaves' arrival.

"The seniors have heard that since their first year here," Eaves said. "Not only do they see that, but they know the statistical evidence that proves that teams that score first are perhaps more likely to win games."

The Badgers are also 20-4-1 when they score first, something that will increase in importance as the playoffs heat up.

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