Seniors bid adieu to Kohl Center

Four members of the UW men's hockey team play their final series at the Kohl Center this weekend

When you think about the seniors on this year's Wisconsin men's hockey team, you probably really only think of one: All-American goalie Bernd Bruckler. However, the other three seniors — goalie Luke Kohtala and forwards John Funk and Pete Talafous — who will see their last series at this Kohl Center have all left their mark in one way or another on the UW program.

Take Kohtala, for example. The walk-on has seen less than five minutes worth of official playing time in his three-year career, but has absolutely no regrets about his experience as a Badger.

"Just being part of the program, it's a great program and a great team, and the guys are really fun to be around," Kohtala said. "It's exciting to be a part of a team at a level this high."

Sometimes it is not the on-ice experience that matters most to college players. Players like Bruckler will continue playing past their collegiate days, but for players like Kohtala, sometimes it is the lessons off the ice that matter most.

"I've been really satisfied with everything that has gone on here," Kohtala said. "Granted, it would be nice to play every night, but when you've got a first-team All-American starting and another great goaltender right behind him it's tough."

And do not think his three years of dedication to the team have gone unnoticed. While his statistics may be completely opposite those of Bruckler, the All-American cannot say enough about his fellow netminder.

"He's been a rock in practice, " Bruckler said. "He's been there every time and has never really been injured. He's always there for the guys after practice and a he's a great guy to have in the locker room. He's always worked hard and given his best, and in a tough situation really, because he didn't always get rewarded with playing."

Similarly, on observer might think that Talafous will leave the Badger program with an uneasy feeling. After transferring from Alaska-Anchorage after his freshman season, he came to his father's alma mater to finish his career. After playing 34 games in his sophomore year, his playing time dwindled as young star forwards came to UW. But he has no sore feelings.

Asked if a decrease in playing time took anything away from his UW experience, Talafous responded: "Not at all. Last year might have been a different answer, but this year my attitude has changed a lot. It's a very good team, so that doesn't make me feel bad. It doesn't change anything. I have just as good of memories as if I had played [more] here."

At the same time, as the talent level rose, so did Talafous' practice level. He was not about to stop working hard just because he was not playing as much as before.

With injuries to junior forward A.J. Degenhardt and freshman forward Matt Ford this week, Talafous has been preparing just in case he finds his name in the lineup. Regardless of whether he is in uniform this weekend, he will be feeling the emotions of his last days as a Badger at the Kohl Center.

"I've been here four years now, and it seems like it's gone by in about a year," Talafous said. "It'll be sad, but more than anything I'm just going to miss it a lot."

The same goes for Funk. While not known for his scoring, Funk has appeared in 85 games for Wisconsin. The senior got his first two-goal game of his career earlier this season, but remembers last year's North Dakota series as his fondest memory.

"Obviously it was a big weekend and a really exciting game with Robbie [Earl] scoring the game-winner. But pretty much every time you play in front of the Kohl Center crowd it gets you going," Funk said.

Though the NHL (if it returns next season), will not likely be calling him to play, Funk has his sights set upon a role as being a coach at one level or another … perhaps even following in the footsteps of his father, who is a professional scout for the San Jose Sharks.

"I don't think I'll be playing any further than college hockey, but maybe there's a future in coaching or something like that. We'll just have to see," Funk said.

As for Bruckler, the senior Hobey Baker award candidate will need to keep his emotions in check this weekend. On one hand, it will be his last weekend in front of a sold-out Kohl Center, but on the other hand, he will need to be sharp in net as the Badgers take on WCHA front-runner Colorado College.

"It's going to be emotional. But I'm going to be extremely focused on the game," Bruckler said. "And it would be a lot more emotional if it would be the last two games of my career, but it's not. We have a lot of hockey left to play."

Though only six games remain on the Badgers' regular-season schedule, Bruckler talks as though the season has just begun.

In the same respect, Bruckler was hesitant to pick a memorable moment, stating that "hopefully it is yet to come."

Bruckler was a first-team All-American last season and is trying to do so again this year with a .915 save percentage and a 2.34 goals against average. He has a .916 save percentage for his career and a 2.47 GAA for his career. While these statistics place him towards the top of the Badgers' all-time list — which is cluttered with NHL names— Bruckler will not even begin to think of where he ranks among Wisconsin's all-time goaltenders.

"I've never even thought about that," Bruckler said. "I knew I had an opportunity to come to a program that had a tradition of great goaltenders in the past. To even attend a program like that was an honor for me."

This senior class has seen both ends of the spectrum in their years here. They were here for the transition between former head coach Jeff Sauer and current head coach Mike Eaves. They were here in 2002-03 when the Badgers went 13-23-4, and then last year when the Badgers came within an overtime goal of going to the Frozen Four. This year they continue to give their best effort in hopes of their best season of their Badger careers.

Whether they have played five minutes as a Badger, or 104 games with the cardinal and white, like Bruckler, this Saturday's game with the Tigers will be an emotional time for this year's senior class.

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