No, the Wisconsin men's hockey team couldn't bring home the hardware once again. A slow Badger start crippled them in the end, but there's no question the defending champs ended this season with a great deal of pride: 8-3-2 in their last six weekends, including a repeat third-place finish at the Final Five in St. Paul. So, here's a recap of what was the men's hockey team's up-and-down campaign: MVP: Jake Dowell Coming into this season, the Eau Claire native was not known for his shot. Nobody could believe it when Dowell scored his 10th goal of the season back in December. But Dowell developed into a very, very good shooter — as well as Wisconsin's most lethal scorer — with a team-high 19 goals in the year. But it wasn't just Dowell's contributions on the score sheet that makes him MVP. After all, the honor isn't called "best player" or "most goals on the team," even if Dowell fits those descriptions as well. Dowell was so valuable because even scoring 25 points, he legitimately could have been closer to 50. It seemed like every time Dowell was on the ice for a Badger goal, even if Dowell wasn't getting the goal or assist, he was doing something that was instrumental in gaining the goal. It could have been getting a steal of the puck, clearing out opposing players to open lanes up for his linemates or being a nuisance in front of the opposing goaltender, allowing the Badgers clear shots at the net. Without Dowell being the offensive force he was, Wisconsin's season would have been that much more disappointing. Greatest moment: Sweeping North Dakota in Grand Forks, Dec. 8-9 Apologies to that Jan. 12 victory at the Kohl Center against the Gophers, which knocked No. 1 Minnesota off its lofty perch, but that was just one game. What really defined the Badgers' season was the road trip to Grand Forks in early December. The Badgers had just snapped a six-game losing streak, including sweeps at the hands of Denver and Minnesota. UW could have let its slide continue. But the offense, which had shown its first signs of faltering, took charge at Ralph Engelstad Arena, scoring four goals in each game, earning Wisconsin its first sweep of the season. Saturday's win was the more impressive of the pair, when UW was down 2-1 going into the third but got a couple of goals from Ross Carlson (just returning from injury) to gain the sweep. Most underrated (but not unappreciated) player: Brian Elliott St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko, whose Huskies lost to the Badgers twice and tied them once in the last six weeks of the season, said Wisconsin was, if nothing else, an NCAA-tournament worthy club. "I think there are a lot of No. 1 seeds real happy right now," Motzko said. "They would have been a four seed playing a one seed, playing against Elliott. I would think there are a lot of teams awful happy about that. [To not] play a WCHA team in the first game, [against] Brian Elliott, the defending champ — there's a little sigh of relief." One could almost wonder if Motzko completely agrees with the WCHA's picking his backstop, Bobby Goepfert, as first-team goaltender. Goepfert's win-loss record blew Elliott's out of the record, but Goepfert's case stops there. For the second straight year, Elliott was the WCHA goaltending champ, with a league-leading GAA of 1.94 and save percentage of .930 in his senior season. But even if the rest of the conference didn't completely grasp how good Elliott was as a Badger, Elliott's teammates had no shortage of worldly compliments for him, especially at season's end when Elliott carried UW into the Final Five. With career numbers like Elliott's (51-27-6, 1.78 GAA, .931 save percentage, one championship ring), Elliott more than lived up to expectations … even if the rest of the league never noticed. Badgers with most to prove in 2007-08: Michael Davies/Shane Connelly Davies had his share of good games this season — tying for the team lead in multi-point games this season — but was not as consistent as his fellow highly-hyped freshman Jamie McBain, who got better and better as the year continued. With 37 out of 93 goals graduating this year (nearly 40 percent) — and Jack Skille's eight goals, a flight risk for the NHL — Wisconsin is in desperate need of a top scorer. Davies and Ben Street will be the go-to guys in that category. But the most important player to Wisconsin's success in 2007-08? Young Shane Connelly, who was freakishly good for the seven games in which he made an appearance. Connelly went 4-1-2 (including a season-ending, comeback win over No. 4 St. Cloud State on Sunday), gave up just eight goals (1.11 GAA) and saved 95.2 percent of his shots against. Most impressively, he had three shutouts — in just five starts. The sophomore was trained, at least in terms of playing-time, the same way Elliott was. If Connelly can scratch the surface of his predecessor's success, Badger hockey will be in good hands. Bold Prediction for 2007-08: Davis Drewiske: offensive juggernaut? As a defenseman, Double-D showed some offensive prowess with four goals and six assists on the season. With so many good scorers gone to graduation — and with the possible departure of Skille — the junior from Hudson will make a career move, playing left wing on the second line with Blake Geoffrion and Michael Davies. Where's the bold prediction? He'll rank at least third on the team in scoring, even as a new forward. Team prediction for 2007-08: Fourth in WCHA This is a tough call in college hockey: You never really know who's going to be back and who's jumping to the NHL. Right now, the guess is MacNaughton Cup winner Minnesota, Broadmoor Trophy runner-up North Dakota and Denver will finish in the top three. But even that's tough. The Gophers might return a full slate of young studs and dominate the nation, or they might get nobody back and fall out of the WCHA top five. But assuming a fair balance of people going and people staying, UW has the potential to return to the upper echelon of the conference, and with some strong out-of-conference victories return to the NCAA tournament.