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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badgers look to senior leadership as WCHA, NCAA tournaments loom

Fifth-year senior Ben Street is the lone Badger remaining from Wisconsin\’s 2006 Championship squad and will be expected to lead UW down the stretch.[/media-credit]

Defense wins championships. But you have to score too, right? Special teams and goaltending matter too — so what exactly is a common X-factor on championship teams?


Only two of the last five NCAA champions had more freshmen and sophomores than juniors and seniors on the roster. That would seem to bode well for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, which has 15 juniors and seniors compared to 12 freshmen and sophomores (well, that and the Badgers’ No. 3 national ranking in the polls and their 4.00 goals per game average).


When Wisconsin won the national title in 2006, it was led by veterans like Adam Burish, Robbie Earl and Tom Gilbert. The impression those upperclassmen had on current senior tri-captain Ben Street stays with him today.

“I remember in ’06, with that core group — with Burish, with Gilbert — I was a young guy coming in and looked up to those guys,” Street, who was then a freshman on the team, said.

Now Street is the guy being admired on another talented Wisconsin team, and he, along with fellow senior captain Blake Geoffrion and junior captain Ryan McDonagh, are trying to end this season in a similar way.

One of the advantages that comes with experience is a familiarity with what the coaches expect from the team. UW head coach Mike Eaves said he’s happy with how in sync his veterans are with the coaching staff — maybe to the point of being too in sync.

“They’re right in tune to what our thoughts are. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad thing,” Eaves said with a laugh. “The fact that we are on the same page in our conversations… says a lot that we’re on the right path.”

“It’s funny, today Coach asked a few different guys, ‘What do you think we need to work on?'” Street said. “And they said the exact same stuff that we talked about earlier in the week.”

With the end of the season approaching — UW has just six regular season games left — there’s no better time for the Badgers to be in tune with each other. First place Denver sits in good position to win the WCHA regular season title come season’s end, so UW has no room for error in the race for the McNaughton Cup.

This last stretch of games also serves as a tune-up for the WCHA playoffs — and further down the road, the NCAA tournament. The Badgers are on track to get a No. 1 seed in the tournament, but as in the race for the conference title, they can’t afford to give away games.

Things like penalties and turnovers can cost a team games, and as a veteran of a couple tournament runs, Street is trying to let the younger players on the team know that.

“When you get in the playoffs, you can’t really afford those mistakes,” he said. “One mistake can end your season. You can’t play afraid to make that mistake; but at the same time, if you do the right things, those aren’t going to happen.”

Although Eaves has nothing but good things to say about the leadership and experience his seniors bring, he notes things were a little different when he was a player. Eaves played four years at Wisconsin, winning a national title in 1977 under legendary coach “Badger” Bob Johnson.

“It’s interesting, I don’t think that back when I was in college that this whole leadership was a very much talked about, or defined topic,” he said. “Your best players were your captains and you expected your best players to be your best players if you were going to win.”

It’s not that Eaves’ current group of seniors doesn’t contribute on the score sheet as well — Geoffrion is third in the nation with 21 goals, and forward Michael Davies is the third-leading scorer in the WCHA. But now Eaves has an appreciation for another factor that can come with experience — depth.

Current fourth-line seniors Andy Bohmbach and Ben Grotting aren’t counted on to provide points, as they did this past weekend against Minnesota State. But Eaves makes sure they know their contributions are appreciated no matter what — something he learned from Johnson.

“That was the first time I’d ever seen that. He spent time with them personally and made sure they got feedback,” Eaves said. “A lot of coaches wouldn’t do that, coaches that I’d had up until that time.”

And in guys like Bohmbach and Grotting, Eaves has some extra leadership. With Geoffrion being the vocal guy and Street leading by example, Grotting has helped by embracing his role as an energy-provider and as a senior leader.

“You have your formal leadership, and then you’ve got your informal, which is everybody grabbing the rope, and you can say he kind of leads the charge in that way,” Eaves said of Grotting.

So being familiar with the current group of seniors he’s come up with, and having seen his share of senior classes during his tenure, who would Geoffrion compare his group to?

“I guess it would be a little bit comparable to the guys that won in ’06, I guess,” he said. “That’s the only class that has been big and just similar guys to us, character guys.”

Geoffrion’s position as a senior has one other unintended benefit for the Badgers. By simply staying for his senior year instead of going pro, he’s contributing now, and as Eaves hopes, in the future as well.

Aside from the seven graduating seniors, UW could potentially lose defensemen Brendan Smith and McDonagh to the NHL after this season. Eaves thinks the impact of seeing Geoffrion play four years could rub off on his teammates.

“It is something that at our year end meetings, when we talk about those boys that are in that situation, that we will certainly put on the table,” Eaves said of Geoffrion’s decision to stay. “It speaks volumes; it’s one of their peers.”

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