The only thing that will be missing from a playoff-like atmosphere Friday night in the Wisconsin series opener against Denver is an actual playoff game, but emotions will certainly be running high for players and fans alike at the Kohl Center.
Prior to the Wisconsin men’s hockey team (12-14-2, 7-13-2 WCHA) taking on Denver (17-9-4, 12-6-4 WCHA) Friday night, a touching moment for all in attendance will take place as former Wisconsin All-American goaltender Kirk Daubenspeck will serve as an honorary captain and drop the ceremonial first puck exactly one year after surviving a car collision with a tractor-trailer on Feb. 17, 2011. The accident left the Badger great in a coma after sustaining serious head injuries.
Daubenspeck’s story may provide inspiration for UW, currently mired in a season-long four-game losing streak and coming off a bye week. It is something they will need to beat a Denver team coming off an impressive series sweep of WCHA leading Minnesota.
“Except for our freshman, they were all in the room last year when [Daubenspeck’s former teammates] Mark Strobel and Jamie Spencer came in and spoke to the team about Dauber, his life, his career, the things he had gone through and what they were trying to do,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “[Strobel and Spencer] talked about the family of Badgers and how they were pulling together and they tried to help their teammate. It was an eye-opening experience for everybody.”
In what will be the only regular season matchup of the two teams, Friday and Saturday will also mark what is likely to be the final home series of the season for the Badgers as well as lone UW senior Eric Springer’s final chance in his career to skate in front of the Wisconsin fans at the Kohl Center.
The series has been dubbed senior and parent weekend and will no doubt leave at least one Badger reflecting on his experience as a University of Wisconsin student-athlete.
“We are a team; it’s kind of like a brotherhood,” Springer said. “We are all there for each other, and the fact that I am the only senior, [but] the first time I’m really going to feel that way is going out there for senior night. I try to be a leader for the guys and try to set an example … as much as I can. You feel like one of the guys in the locker room. It’s a great feeling, and I am going to miss it.”
It seems as if the storylines surrounding this series could make it easy to forget that the Badgers and Pioneers still have to go out and play two games of hockey that could have WCHA playoff seeding implications for both teams.
The Pioneers sit third in the WCHA with 28 points, and the Badgers are in 11th place with 16, but both squads are within striking distance to improve their positions.
“We are playing a very good team, and it’s another opportunity for our kids to step up and get better,” Eaves said. “We have beaten some pretty good teams in our own building. We just need to play to that level once again. We haven’t played in a couple of weeks; that first 20 minutes will be really important for us. We need to get out there and compete.”
Eaves doesn’t want the team sitting back on rest as an excuse to play better, however.
“There has been more energy just because of the fact that we’re fresh, but there is a tradeoff there,” Eaves said. “There is the freshness that you have in your leg, but that still doesn’t compensate for not being in games. That’s why that first period on Friday night will be important for us.”
The home ice should provide the Badgers with some much-needed familiarity, as the Kohl Center has played host to 11 of Wisconsin’s 12 victories this season. And if the two weeks of rest and ceremonial activities planned for the weekend weren’t enough, Eaves has reminded his team to live by a particular quote he firmly believes in by inspirational figure, Charles Swindoll.
“Ten percent of life is what happened to us,” Eaves said. “And 90 percent is how we react to it.
“We have a choice now. [The team has] heard it before. It is one that is in our locker room all the time. It is one of our cornerstones. It’s one of those fundamental truths of life that I have come to believe in.”