Men's hockey: Freshmen at the forefront

Street, Skille adjust to college game with timely goals

MADISON — Wisconsin hockey returned to the Kohl Center on Friday night with a highly touted and very experienced roster of WCHA veterans. In fact, the Badgers brought back 97.7 percent of their scoring from 2004-2005.

All in all, UW lost just three goals from that team, each one scored by the departed John Funk. It took Badger newcomers all of one game to nearly match that mark.

In scoring the first and final goals of the Badgers' 3-2 overtime victory over St. Lawrence on Friday, freshman forwards Ben Street and Jack Skille showed they can provide yet a few more jabs to an already potent range of Wisconsin offensive punching power.

Skille scored the game winner for UW, taking the puck from junior Ross Carlson and breaking around a Saints defenseman in the right circle before skating hard towards the net. Although not the prettiest goal, sliding in after Skille was hit and fell in a pile near the goal line, it was exactly what the team wanted from its young players.

"That's a big thing to do, is not to overdo stuff as a freshman," said junior Robbie Earl, referring to getting the puck on net, in general. Both players did just that for their goals, rather than take their time.

It was a homecoming of sorts for the former Verona High School star Skille, who noted the difference in playing before this type of crowd in the Kohl Center. Like Street, Skille is only an 18-year-old freshman, but the two bring plenty of experience to the table.

After two seasons with the USA Hockey National Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., both and Inside College Hockey named Skille to their pre-season all-rookie teams. This summer the Chicago Blackhawks, the first team Skille ever went to see play in person, drafted him with the seventh overall pick in the NHL Draft.

As for Street, he arrives from the British Columbia Hockey league where he spent the last two seasons tallying 102 total points with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

The Coquitlam, British Columbia native decidedly turned the tide in the game when he responded to the second St. Lawrence goal on a Robbie Earl pass from the corner. The sharp shot over the left shoulder of the goaltender erupted the crowd and sent the Badgers into the second intermission with something to build on for the final period.

"It was a momentum changer," Skille said. "When I was on the bench watching that play it really lifted me up."

UW coach Mike Eaves spoke highly of his young scoring duo after the game. He noted that they handled the high pace well and generally acclimated to the style of play at this level. As for the game-winner, he praised Skille's aggressiveness. Often times the Badgers spent too much time waiting for the perfect pass or shot.

"You could call it a fluky goal, but it's that ability to go to the net and good things will happen," Eaves said.

The season is long and certainly young, but Skille and Street, catchy enough names to begin with, might not take long to catch on in Madison. The duo wanted the team to know they can be counted on along with everyone else as go-to guys. When the Badgers needed them Friday, they were most certainly that.

"I think they both really stepped to the forefront and helped get those jitters out," Earl said.

In the post-game press conference, it appeared Eaves already had his young guns prepared for questioning. A couple of times they echoed statements reminiscent of the "Meat" character in Bull Durham, who was advised to keep things simple.

"It could have been anybody," Street said of his goal after a number of Wisconsin chances. "We're just trying to help out the team," he added.

They already have.

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