Robert Morris, who recently defeated then-No.9 Boston University in Alaska, were confident coming into this weekend, but couldn't match the youthful liveliness intertwined among Wisconsin's 20 players. Coming into the Kohl Center is a challenge on its own and then add the three not-so-green anymore Badger rookies to the mix (NHL first round draft picks Kyle Turris, Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith) and there was bound to be some self-esteem issues for the Colonials.
The freshmen contributed immensely to the weekend sweep of Robert Morris, especially Kyle Turris.
The Badgers had a shaky start to their season with a loss to 19th ranked Ohio State last weekend after defeating then-No.8 Notre Dame. With Wisconsin having a team of newbies, it is not a surprise that the Badgers came out tentative last Saturday. This weekend was only the third and fourth game of the season and the freshmen already look like a team of seniors. There was a confidence out on the ice and while they still have work ahead, they are on the road to having a successful season.
The three freshmen – Turris, McDonagh, and Smith - were all first round draft picks for the 2007 NHL draft (Turris picked by Phoenix, McDonagh by Montreal and Smith by Detroit). The Badgers are just the third college hockey school to have three first round draft picks in the same draft. Already having a lot of pressure on them, especially with the highly publicized choice of college over professional hockey, the trio has turned the Badgers into a star-studded line up, putting their talent to good use. The three first rounders were responsible for five goals and nine assists on the weekend.
Living up to the hype is hard enough, especially playing their first home game with the screaming Wisconsin fans and the Badgers crazed Crease Creatures student section. In only 120 minutes in front of the home crowds, the fresh three proved why they were picked in the first round.
"When you have a Mario Lemieux or a Wayne Gretzky in guys like that, you notice them in games like that when you look at the box score," Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. "He's going to be a dynamite player and Wisconsin is going to win a lot more games because he's a game breaker," Schooley commenting on Turris.
Responsible for two goals and two assists Friday night and one goal and three assists Saturday night, Turris was lightning quick. He skated around the rink as if he has been playing hockey in the Kohl Center his entire life. Although he admitted he was nervous before Friday's game, no one could tell out on the ice.
"I try to go into every game as relaxed as I can," Turris said. "I knew the atmosphere coming into tonight's game was going to be crazy. I was a bit nervous but my teammates really helped calm me down and give me great advice."
Wisconsin had 23 shots on goal in Friday night's first period with three goals, dominating the net all night long.
"We wanted to come off to a great start and we did that," Turris said about the early lead Friday. "Things went from there. We didn't anticipate it to be 7-2, but we wanted to give the fans something to cheer about early and make sure we kept Morris out of the game"
Throughout the weekend, the green freshmen ripened. After Friday night's game, the doubts of a young team hindering the season had left the minds of Badger fans. For those still unsure, Saturday night's contest proved it, as three freshmen – Patrick Johnson, Podge Turnbull and Smith – scored their first goals as Badgers.
Through four games, the seven freshmen on the roster have brought an excitement to the game that Wisconsin was missing last season. There is still a lot of hockey left in the season, but this weekend brings promise. They can taste success and as a team, they have the talent and the rapport that is vital for a winning team.
"They are in a position, these young people, to be able to play because we need them to play," head coach Mike Eaves said. "We're hoping they have those contributions offensively and we hope it continues."