Badgers need to slow Conner

More confident Michigan Tech hockey squad visiting the Kohl Center

What: Michigan Tech Huskies (0-2-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association, 0-2-0 overall) at No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0-0, 2-0-0)
When: Friday, Oct. 22 at 8:07 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 23 at 7:07 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: TV: none Radio: 1310 AM WIBA, live coverage both nights
Series: Wisconsin leads 79-40-6 overall, 48-15-4 in Madison, 16-2-0 in last 18 meetings

When Michigan Tech came to the Kohl Center last January, it seemed like an easy four points for the Badgers. At that point, Wisconsin was atop the WCHA standings while the Huskies occupied the 10th and final spot.

After a close 4-2 win in the Friday night game, defenseman Tom Gilbert even mentioned how the team may have been considering the weekend a bye week. The team went on to lose the series finale 3-2, snapping a six-game winning streak. The loss also marked the beginning of a stretch in which the team won just one of its next seven games.

It is safe to say that there will be no such quotes from the Badgers this weekend.

"We know that these guys are good. We need to be ready," sophomore defenseman Jeff Likens said.

"You probably won't be hearing any quotes like that out of us this entire year," sophomore forward Ross Carlson said. "There is no such thing as a bye week in the WCHA."

Wisconsin begins WCHA play this weekend as they host the Huskies for a two-game series. The matchup includes the conference's two best players, at least according to the WCHA preseason Player of the Year award balloting.

UW senior goalie Bernd Bruckler, the league's preseason POY, will try to fend off Michigan Tech junior forward Chris Conner, the runner up for the award by just one vote, in a battle between the league's biggest offensive threat and the league's toughest defensive backstop.

Conner, a preseason all-American, tied a WCHA record last year with eight short-handed goals. He is a player who can make something out of nothing and looks to wreak havoc on the young Badger defense this weekend.

"He's very skilled. If you give him room, he can be a very dangerous player out there. You have to respect him and if you see his number out there on the ice, you have to have the extra thing in your head to know that he is out there," Carlson said.

The Huskies have split up Conner and their other premiere scorer, senior Colin Murphy, so that opposing defenses cannot focus on just one line. Along with that, Michigan Tech brings with them a different mentality than last year.

"Just talking to people, there seems to be a different attitude. It's a new start," Eaves said. "They have that look in their eyes like, ‘Hey, let's see how good we can be.'"

Bruckler should be fresh between the pipes for the Badgers after getting last Saturday off. He allowed two goals, both in the first period, in last Friday night's 3-2 victory over Mercyhurst. But the Badgers have to hope that Bruckler becomes the last line of defense when it comes to Conner.

Wisconsin's young defensive corps, which includes three freshmen, will face a more difficult task this weekend handling Conner and the Huskies than last weekend, when they held Mercyhurst to two goals in two games.

"They've probably never faced somebody that is as fast and able to do the things at the speed that he can do things at," Eaves said. "That's what makes him so hard to stop."

One defensive duo that stepped up last weekend was that of Likens and freshman Kyle Klubertanz. The two played solid and may be counted on to deny limit Conner's opportunities.

"I haven't [seen him at all], but I've heard a lot about him," Klubertanz said. We know what number he is and we'll know when he's on the ice."

"I like what I have with [Kyle]," Likens said. "The biggest thing is getting to know each other and where each other will be on the ice at all times. The chemistry is brewing pretty good."

Likens and Gilbert will be expected to lead the young group on defense throughout the season.

The defensive depth chart took another hit this week when the team lost freshman Josh Engel. He will be out for the next month.

"We have to play smarter when we go down in numbers," Eaves said.

The team continued to work on special teams play—both on power plays and penalty kills—after getting their first real taste of the new officiating last weekend.

After finishing last in the league last year in converting on the man advantage, the Badgers currently lead the WCHA, converting in 25 percent of their power play opportunities. They will need to do more of the same this weekend if they hope to start WCHA play off on the right foot.

With Conner on the penalty kill, the Badgers will have to be concerned, not only with scoring, but with maintaining possession of the puck in order to minimize Conner's chances.

Although Michigan Tech held down the fort at the bottom of the standings last season, it is no team to overlook. The Badgers will have to bear down on defense and capitalize on all their offensive opportunities if they hope to chalk up four points in the WCHA standings this weekend.

Badger Nation Top Stories