Men's hockey: Still confident

Despite rocky stretch, and a changed home venue, Badgers are excited to get back on the ice

MADISON—Adam Burish has many fond memories of the Dane County Coliseum. The captain of the Badger men's hockey team, Burish's family had season tickets at the Coliseum beginning when he was in third grade.

The Madison native saw seasons worth of games at the old barn year in and year out, through some of the glory years of Wisconsin hockey. Since 1998, though, those season tickets were moved to the Kohl Center, with the opening of that 15,237-seat venue.

But due to an agreement with the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, every other year the Badgers can end up back at the Coliseum—now the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the Alliant Energy Center—if they host a host a first-round Western Collegiate Hockey Association best-of-three playoff series, thus allowing the high school state girls' basketball tournament to be held at the Kohl Center, at a substantial cost benefit to the university.

The Badger men's hockey team that will face off with Alaska Anchorage beginning Friday night, though, does not exactly feel estranged.

There are many connections to the Coliseum's past on this UW team. Head coach Mike Eaves and assistant Mark Osiecki played there as Badgers, and Wisconsin regularly practices at the arena next door, which is connected to the Coliseum via the Bob Johnson Hockey Facility.

And some Badgers, including Burish, remember the old arena (which seats 8,100) as fans in their youth.

"I'm excited to play here," Burish said. "I've been telling the guys a few stories from when I was watching them back when I was younger and I tell them it's going to be a great place to play. It can be loud, the fans are on top of you, there's the echo, everything echoes in there, so I'm excited to play here. I remember the great days of the Badgers playing here."

Those shining moments, Burish recalled, included watching the 1990 national championship team, when Osiecki was an assistant captain.

"I vividly remember watching the 1990 team, the national championship, I remember that season," Burish said. "I remember seeing Coach Osiecki out here. So I remember how this building could get rocking and the student section here was always crazy, just like it is at the Kohl Center."

Even if they were skating on a frozen pond, the Badgers would be excited to get back on the ice. They are 1-5-3 in their past nine games, but they have been focused intently on the positives. The Badgers have played better hockey of late, playing well enough to win certainly in their last three games, Eaves has said.

Now, though, Wisconsin needs to start turning effort and intent on the ice into positive production on the scoreboard.

"We had a meeting [Wednesday] and the message was, we have played well but at times, we've had inconsistencies and that's why we haven't been able to turn that corner and finally win that game," Burish said. "We're so close and we've said that. But in the playoffs, close doesn't cut it anymore. Either you're there or you're not there and that's the one that's going to be important for us is to play a consistent 60-minute game."

The Badgers enjoyed a lively skate Wednesday, a day after Eaves and his assistants chose to close practice, without prior announcement. When Burish and his teammates arrived to see the door to the hockey facility padlocked, he said their was a great deal of rejoicing, followed by a team trip to a nearby bowling alley, Badger Bowl.

Eaves said he thought the team needed a shot of energy. The tactic seems to have done the trick.

"This week we've had one of our sharpest week of practices we've had all year," Burish said. "It was real intense, real hard, quick but hard. A lot of hard drills, a lot of battle drills we haven't done since the middle of the year but we've brought them all back this week and have just been short, quick bursts. They've been great."

The Badgers should not have any trouble getting revved up for this weekend, which is a rematch with the team that upset them in the first round of the WCHA playoffs a year ago.

"Last year we lost to Alaska in the playoffs and kind of died for a week," junior defenseman Tom Gilbert said last week. "We had to get our own momentum going into the NCAA playoffs."

This week Wisconsin had to get its own momentum despite feeling the joy of victory only once in the past four weekends.

"I think we've been more confident than people might think," Burish said. "Guys still believe in our abilities, believe in our systems, and now that everything's clean—the slate's clean now—guys understand that now that [the playoffs are] in front of us, we can see the end of the tunnel, we can see what we've been working so hard for. It's finally here and that excites guys."

What: Fourth-seeded Wisconsin (21-11-4 overall, 16-9-3 WCHA) v. seventh-seeded Alaska-Anchorage (11-17-6, 9-15-4) in best-of-three series.
When: Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 at 7:07 p.m. Sunday, March 13 at 7:07 p.m., if necessary.
Where: Veterans Memorial Coliseum (8,100) in Madison.
Broadcasts: UPN in Madison will televise Friday and Saturday night games live. Tape delayed broadcasts available on Wisconsin Public Television all three nights; live radio broadcasts on WIBA 1310 AM.
Series Notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 30-11-8, including 4-0-0 this season… The Badgers only two losses in the last 13 games of the series came at the Kohl Center last season, when the Seawolves won a first-round playoff series in three games…. Wisconsin has out-scored Anchorage 17-5 in four games this season.

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