Erickson: Questions abound for Wisconsin hockey

first_imgIf you were worried about the Wisconsin men’s hockey team last year, then prepare for another season of questions.Mainly, who will play in goal? And who will score goals?Not to be too pessimistic, but there are possibly more questions about this team right now than answers.All head coach Mike Eaves can say right now is that it’s going to be a process. In fact, he used the word “process” three times in about four seconds Wednesday.“The word you’re going to hear a lot this year is going to be ‘process,’” Eaves said. “We’re in the process of doing a lot things, and processes don’t happen in a New York minute. It’s going to take awhile.”It seems like eons ago the Badgers were playing in the national championship and Blake Geoffrion won the Hobey Baker Award. I will kindly remind you that was only two years ago.So much has happened since. So many players have moved up to the National Hockey League. In fact, Wisconsin has only six upperclassmen on the roster this year, and only one is a senior.On his 26-man roster, Eaves has 20 underclassmen. His team has more cubs at the moment than fully grown Badgers.“Lots of questions to be answered,” Eaves said. “I think history tells us that we’re going to need patience and try to balance teaching and keeping their confidence up. It will be a tight wire to walk in this case. We need to break a lot of poor habits and create new habits, which is going to take time.”The majority of those underclassmen are the sophomore class who – at times – showed great potential last season, but was never consistent enough to put up a strong offensive front and help UW win those key games.“We want those moments to be more consistent and they want that,” Eaves said. “They’re really fired up. They want to be major factors on this team, because they’re such a big group – there’s 11 of them. They’ve talked about that all summer. It’ll be fun to see what they come up with here.”Last season as freshmen, the group accounted for only 23 of UW’s 129 goals. Forward Mark Zengerle led the class with a total of 36 points and was the No. 4 point scorer on the team, but he managed just five goals all season.One thing even their teammates want to see from the youngsters is some leadership.“Yeah, I think they have to step up in the leadership role, too, since we have so many young guys,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “You look at guys like Mark Zengerle, and you know he’s really going to have a good year here and he’s going to be one of our leaders and step up for us.”Between what little veteran experience returns and the potential held by the underclassmen, the Badgers feel they’ll be able to score, though stopping the puck is a whole different issue.With three goaltenders on its roster, Wisconsin doesn’t have a single goalie with collegiate game experience.Eaves has stated throughout the offseason he plans to start freshman Joel Rumpel, but as game day approaches, he’s become more evasive, especially after seeing the netminders compete in the preseason.“I’ve got one more day,” Eaves said. “They’re pushing each other. They know it’s a competitive situation. In each case, its something different that they’re working on. Joel Rumpel … he’s the most athletic, he has great athleticism but he has some habits he needs to shore up. Landon Peterson’s been a nice surprise in terms of what he brings – his quickness – he seems very patient. And Mitch Thompson – less is more for Mitch. If he would just relax a little bit more and let his abilities come through, he’d be better, but he’s getting there.”While Thompson is the oldest of the three, chances are Eaves will stick to his word and give Rumpel the start or at least significant playing time – especially this weekend – to not only help him gain experience, but to see how he can handle the game atmosphere.One positive the Badgers do have going into this season is the return of Schultz.Schultz was the top blueliner in the nation last year and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. But his return doesn’t concern winning such an award or any other personal honors. He just wants to keep working hard and help his team earn some victories.“I came back to improve myself, and the main reason was to win,” Schultz said. “I could care less if I get any awards this year or if I get less than last year. I just want to do better than we did as a team last year.”But his return doesn’t answer many questions for the Badgers.Having a player of his caliber is certainly a great thing. The defense will continue to be strong and hopefully the younger guys will learn from the nationally-recognized defensemen, but the fact remains if the Badgers want to win, they need to get the puck in the net and that test starts Friday night at the Kohl Center.“I think it’s a lot of unknowns right now, and I think we just have to wait until Friday until we find out what we’ve got out there,” Schultz said. “But in practice and the scrimmages we’ve been doing, there’s a lot of talented young guys we’ve got, so I’m excited for Friday.”Kelly is a junior majoring in journalism. What are your questions about this year’s hockey team? Let her know at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @kellyerickson4 for all the latest hockey updates.last_img

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