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Sophomore goaltender Scott Gudmandson’s 34-save shutout and Wisconsin men’s hockey team sweep of Michigan Tech Saturday night raised questions about goalie rotation at head coach Mike Eaves’ press conference Monday.
Senior Shane Connelly entered the season as the Badgers’ top goalie, but Gudmandson has already seen action in three of UW’s 10 games this year.
“There’s always that possibility,” Eaves said of a rotation between Connelly and Gudmandson. “It’s a funny thing with goaltenders. In our sport, even more so than baseball, where it’s kind of like that it’s an individual sport within a team sport. Although pitchers can’t go back-to-back nights, goaltenders can. The basic philosophy is to let the young man play, see how he plays, and then go from there.”
The decision to give Gudmandson the start Saturday was a result of a great week of practice by the sophomore. However, this kind of practice is something that has to continue, according to Eaves.
“I think for [Gudmandson], he’s got to really practice again like he did last week,” Eaves said. “That was the reason that he got the start, and it was one of those opportunities that we felt during the season that we could give him a start, because he needs to get some of those before Shane graduates.”
Eaves also recalled the first few seasons of the senior Connelly, who was once in the position that Gudmandson currently finds himself in.
“We talked about it the end of last year that he (Connelly) knew it was going to be this way,” Eaves said. “It’s very similar to his year when he was in this boat, and we had the same talk with Brian [Elliott] and he that we’ve had with [Scott] and Shane. So he knew coming in what it was going to be like. He’s actually lived through it, so he knows exactly what it feels like.”
On the road again
Being on the road six out of their first eight games wasn’t easy for the Badgers, according to Eaves, whose team will once again hit the road to face off against Minnesota-Duluth this weekend.
“It felt like we were riding uphill into the wind,” Eaves said of the early road stretch. “With saying that, as we go into these next eight games, it’s a very important time for us. We’ve got things going the way we want. We need to continue to improve and do some solid things over the next eight games.”
Facing ranked opponents in Boston College, New Hampshire, Denver, Minnesota and North Dakota in the first eight games of the season was a tough way to open the season for Wisconsin. However, Eaves believes that valuable lessons are to be extracted from the team’s struggles in those opening games.
“The thing about that stretch, we were in games that if we look back right now. … We had leads in the third period,” Eaves said. “But regardless of that, we seem to be out of those times with some real great lessons. We’re applying them right now. It’s helped us win these three games. And we just need to keep that measurement moving forward and to continue the growth by our people.”
The tough schedule wasn’t the only challenge facing Eaves’ squad, however, as they had a hard time limiting their opponents’ shots on net.
“A lot of our early season struggles were the fact that in our own zone, we struggled,” Eaves said. “If you take a look at our goals against up until the last three games, that was one of the weaknesses.”