Brandt's ‘utility' boosts UW

Badger men's hockey team revved up for playoff series with Michigan Tech

MADISON—"Utility player" might not be the most glamorous of terms, but when it comes down to crunch time, they are the players a team can look to to get the job done.

In baseball, maybe you are protecting a one-run lead by putting in a player who may not have a hitting prowess, but will make a big play in the field. Or perhaps a team needs a single to drive in a winning run—they put in a utility guy who can slap a single.

In hockey, the term "utility player" might not be used as often, but that is not to say that having one on your bench isn't important.

For the University of Wisconsin, that player is junior Andy Brandt.

"It's credit to Andy in his ability to accept his role and play it to a high level," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "When he's asked to come in there and do a job, he does a very fine job."

Not only has Brandt been asked to step up into the lineup more often down the stretch due to an injury to assistant captain Andrew Joudrey, but he has also filled in on the penalty kill.

But Eaves said that there is more to Brandt than just filling gaps on the ice.

"Probably one of the best things he does is his enthusiasm and energy on the bench in the course of the game," Eaves said. "If you have a role player that's just sitting down there like a bump on the log as opposed to a role player who's going to encourage his teammates and be an adjunct coach…that's a big advantage."

It is not hard to pick Brandt out at practice—just listen for the one who is screaming and whooping it up before, during and after drills.

"Even when I'm not in the lineup or I'm a fourth-line guy I go out there and try to provide energy for this team and have fun," Brandt said. "At the same time, I make sure everyone is working hard."

The Wausau, Wis., native knows all about working hard. After playing in 68 games over his first two seasons at UW, he played in just eight out of the first 28 games this year.

But he kept his nose to the grindstone and has earned playing time down the stretch. He has two assists in the last seven games, appearing in the lineup in all seven of those games.

"It's been exciting for me to get out there and play," Brandt said. "[I] worked hard all year and this is a very competitive team. Whenever you get your chance you have to go out and prove you deserve to be there."

And as far as being called a utility player, he doesn't mind one bit.

"It's nice to be called a utility player," Brandt said. "It's just nice to able to fill in. Growing up I played all the positions, so it's nice."

In fact, not only will Brandt continue to fill in for Joudrey this weekend, but with Joe Piskula also out with an injury, Brandt could be called upon to fill in at the blue line in certain situations.

Either way, both he and sophomore defenseman Josh Engel have big shoes to fill as the postseason gets under way.

It's not like the Badgers needed any extra incentive to go against Michigan Tech. The matchup between the two teams this year has been reminiscent of a battle with arch-rivals Minnesota or North Dakota.

The Huskies surprised the Badgers in December, handing them one of just two losses in the first half of the schedule and snapping a 13-game unbeaten streak. Then they snagged one point in a 4-4 tie just four weeks ago in Houghton, Mich.

Along that way the two teams racked up 261 penalty minutes—although 151 came in UW's 7-0 shellacking at the Kohl Center one night after the aforementioned Husky win.

In that series in Madison, the teams combined to take five game disqualifications and three 10-minute game misconducts.

Needless to say, there is no love lost when it comes to Michigan Tech and Wisconsin, and especially between the Huskies and Nick Licari.

Tech took exception to a hit by Licari in the series at the Kohl Center and then the junior forward was held out of the Saturday game in Houghton, partly because Eaves wasn't pleased with a hit in front of the Husky bench involving Licari.

While it might not be the ideal situation, the Duluth, Minn., native isn't about to hold anything back this weekend.

"Whether it's an NHL team or a peewee team we've got to come out and work hard and finish hits," Licari said. "Everybody's pretty excited. It's playoff time, and it's kind of the same sort of excitement as the beginning of the year. Everything just feels right."

Michigan Tech comes to the Kohl Center on an eight-game winless streak. In fact, they have won just three games since ringing in the new year. That said, the Badgers know that—especially with a player like Chris Conner, Michigan Tech's leading scorer, in the lineup—they cannot take the Huskies for granted.

"Tech's played tough all year," Brandt said. "We respect [them] a lot and we know what they can do offensively and defensively. At the same time, it's time that we focus on our game and all play hard."

While focusing on their game, the Badgers will also focus on making it a short series, looking to snag the first two games and ride a wave of momentum into the Final Five.

"It's definitely going to be beneficial for us to win both games Friday and Saturday, but it's something that we need to take one step at a time," Licari said.

Wisconsin's postseason gets underway Friday in the Kohl Center at 7 p.m.

What: Michigan Tech (6-16-6 WCHA, 7-23-6 overall) at No. 4 Wisconsin (17-8-3, 23-9-3)
When: Friday, March 10, 7 p.m., and Saturday, March 11, 7 p.m. and Sunday March 12, 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Site: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: All games will be broadcast live on TV on UPN-14 and will be shown tape-delayed on Wisconsin Public Television. All games can be heard on the radio at 1310 WIBA-AM.
Series notes: Wisconsin is 83-41-7 all-time against Michigan Tech and 51-15-4 in Madison. The Badgers are 20-3-1 in the last 24 meetings despite a loss and a tie against the Huskies earlier this season. UW's 13-game unbeaten streak was snapped in December by Tech and the Huskies got one point with a tie in Houghton on Feb. 18.

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