Men's hockey: Home for the postseason

Several Badgers have junior-hockey roots in Green Bay

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy made it very clear: There is no place like home. But if home tops the list, Green Bay — or Ashwaubenon really — could be listed as 1a for the Badgers.

It was less than two months ago that Wisconsin defeated Ohio State in a game next door at Lambeau Field.

Before playing in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic, the Badgers held a practice at the Resch Center. They knew they could possibly play here when this weekend rolled around and that is exactly how things played out.

And if the story needed one more twist, a handful of the players and coaches will be making somewhat of a homecoming this weekend during the first round of NCAA tournament action.

Seniors Adam Burish and A.J. Degenhardt were teammates before joining the Badger roster. So were sophomores Kyle Klubertanz and Josh Engel. And the latter were coached by Mark Osiecki, now head coach Mike Eaves' chief assistant.

Of course, it has been awhile since Degenhardt and Burish called Green Bay their home. The Gamblers of the United States Hockey League did not even begin playing in the Resch Center until the year after they departed.

Nonetheless, they are still coming back to a place which meant a lot to them and a lot to their hockey careers. And there are more than a few people who are happy to have them back.

"There's a girl that's a big fan," Degenhardt said. "She comes down and sees us and goes to see a lot of the guys that have moved on."

They will also get a chance to play in front of the host families who took them into their homes while they were playing junior hockey.

"That was six years ago for me now, so it's grown a little [apart], but they're great people and they put up with me for two years of their life," Degenhardt said. "It'll be nice to go back and see them again."

Klubertanz and Engel are much less removed from the city, and definitely had an advantage when the team stepped onto the ice for its first practice here Friday. They were used to the chippy ice and knew how the pucks would bounce off the boards.

But not everything was exactly the same for the sophomore blue-liners.

"It's kind of nice that we got to come up here earlier for the Lambeau game … it's not the same," Klubertanz said. "It was a little different my first time back because I hadn't been back in awhile, but it's always good to be back."

The rest of the Badgers share that sentiment. They knew before the season that they would have an opportunity to win the national title without leaving the state of Wisconsin.

"When you look at the beginning of the year at how [the tournament] is laid out, you say ‘Gee, wouldn't it be nice?" Eaves said. "But [between then and now] I can guarantee you it wasn't a smooth ride. It took until our last game to really cement the fact that we would have the opportunity to come here."

"This morning at practice Coach [Osiecki] and I said the people in Green Bay love Wisconsin sports," Burish said. "They love the Packers and they love the Wisconsin Badgers. Guys are excited and they know it's going to be a red-and-white-filled building."

The Badgers were 13-6-1 this season when playing in the red-and-white-filled Kohl Center and are 2-0 in Green Bay — including a 9-5 victory over Michigan Tech at the Resch Center in 2003. They hope that success continues this weekend.

"It'll be fun to go back and play [here] again," Degenhardt said. "We've got one win [here] already this year so hopefully we can add to that."

Badger Nation Top Stories