Elliott a step closer to playing

UW's star netminder will take it day-by-day in hopes of competing against Michigan Tech this weekend

MADISON—Brian Elliott took part in a goalie practice Monday afternoon, prior to the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team's full practice, placing him another step closer to returning to the lineup, four weeks after injuring his left knee.

Elliott, the nation's best goaltender and a favorite for the Hobey Baker award, worked out for about a half hour with goaltending coach Bill Howard. The workout went well, but the challenge now comes in how Elliott's knee responds day-after-day this week. That will decide whether he plays this weekend, when the Badgers face a road series against Michigan Tech.

"It was a good Monday," Elliott said. "I know I'm just going to try coming back tomorrow and see how it feels again…

Asked if he expected to play this weekend, Elliott responded, "We'll make that decision down the road."

"There's not really a next step," he said. "Just trying to get back in there. It felt good today and we'll see what the rest of the week brings."

"Today the way he moved it looked positive," head coach Mike Eaves said, "but again tomorrow (morning) it will be, when he wakes up, how does he feel?"

The next test for Elliott will be to progress to taking part in goalie's practice and a complete session with the rest of his Badger teammates.

"This step was a goalie practice—concentrated half-an-hour," Eaves said. "Hopefully tomorrow he can do some of that and take some shots in practice—if things proceed. If he's healthy enough to do those things."

On the positive side, Elliott said he has complete confidence in his knee.

Saturday, for instance, he had the confidence to take part in the Badgers' postgame Lambeau Leap, following their win in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic.

"I feel confident in my knee enough to do anything like that," Elliott said. "It was an experience that you're never going to have again so I wanted to take the opportunity to do it."

Elliott dressed Saturday and was officially listed as the No. 3 goaltender for the game against Ohio State, though there were no circumstances under which he would have played.

"I think it was Thursday—I said, ‘Coach, is there any way that I could at least sit on the bench with the guys and be there, just because it is such an experience," Elliott said. "He said… it's a good idea because it gets you back in the team and into the way of thinking when you're actually right there, [rather than] just watching it up from the (press box). I think that was one of the first steps to coming back."

Elliott injured his knee in practice Jan. 18. Up to that point in the season, he was the only goalie who had played in the regular season for the Badgers, and his 18-2-2 record in net still stands as the nation's best. Elliott also leads the nation in save percentage (.944) and goals-against average (1.40).

Elliott declined to say what his specific knee injury was.

"Obviously you don't feel very good," he said, in reference to when the injury occurred. "But you have to make that transition quickly [from] feeling sorry for yourself into working hard and getting back to playing shape and doing everything that you can to get there."

Elliott said he felt sorry for himself as he sat in the training room the afternoon he injured his knee. But once he learned the extent of the injury the following day it was time to "switch your mind over to a different frame and kind of boost yourself up and say, ‘This isn't the end of the world. It's not as bad as it could have been. That's the way you've got to look at it and come back as soon as you're ready."

Without Elliott in net, UW is 2-5-0 overall and 1-5-0 in the WCHA. When Elliott went down the Badgers were in first place, eight points removed from the two second place squads—Denver and Minnesota. But the Pioneers and Gophers swept UW in back-to-back weekends with Elliott out and the Badgers are currently two points behind first-place DU and one point in back of second-place UM. The Pioneers travel to face the Gophers this weekend.

Elliott's replacement, freshman Shane Connelly, has an .874 save percentage and a 3.02 goals-against average. But nearly every aspect of the team, not just the goaltending, has been less impressive with Elliott out of the lineup.

"It's hard to say how much a team misses one player," Elliott said. "A goaltender is an important part, but if you look at the games that we played a lot of it has to do with how we played as a team. It didn't disappoint me as far as how we lost those games. It disappointed me as, seeing those guys and knowing what we can do and not executing the way we can.

"As far as (Connelly), he's been playing great. He really got thrown into the fire and he's come out pretty good in my books and I'm sure everybody else's too."

This is the second time this season Elliott has been forced to come back from an injury. He suffered a right foot injury in off-ice conditioning that limited him in preseason practices, but he returned in time to play both games in UW's season-opening series.

Eaves said a best-case scenario at this point in the week is for Elliott to play one of two games at Michigan Tech. But based on Elliott's prior experience with the foot injury, it is possible that he could play both nights. A decision on whether Elliott plays at all will not be made until later this week. And if he plays Friday, a decision likely would not be made regarding Saturday's game until that morning.

For his part, Elliott said this experience has taught him the virtues of patience.

"I've grown a lot as a person from this," he said. "I know what my body can do and what my body can't. I'm ready to accept those things… The way patience plays a roll in coming back is something that you can't teach."

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