Connelly and I were simply shooting the breeze and making small talk Monday when I asked him the innocent question of what his plans were for this week. His response, "Get two wins."
It's amazing what a couple of wins can do for a team's psyche.
After starting the season on a seven game winless streak and being out scored by 13 goals, the Wisconsin men's hockey team is unbeaten in its past five games and has out scored its opponents by 13 goals.
From the bottom of the WCHA ladder to third place in the conference, the Badgers are as confident as they have been all season.
"From the feedback of the kids, now when they look at the standings when they walk by it, and they see where we are and where we've come from, and what we've done here recently, that there are some good feelings," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They're excited, and they're starting to believe in themselves."
With Wisconsin (4-6-2, 4-4-2 WCHA) heading back on the road for the final time this calendar year on a trip to St. Cloud State (7-4-0, 2-3-0 WCHA), the Badgers will final complete a grueling stretch that had UW play five road series in the first seven weeks.
Not only have the Badgers been living out of a suitcase for most of this season, the Badgers have been traveling the country since the end of last season. To put all the frequent flier miles in perspective, the Badgers will have played as many games in St. Cloud State (six) as they have in the Kohl Center (six) over the last 20 games.
As if matters were challenging enough, Wisconsin has played the number one, seventh, fourth and eighteenth-ranked teams, all on the road.
"I don't know who made the schedule," Eaves said. "But they certainly got a diabolical mind in their headset when they made this for us."
The good news is that after this weekend, the Badgers will only travel three more times the rest of the regular season (to Alaska Anchorage, Minnesota and Minnesota State). But before the Badgers get back home, they have some unfinished business to attend to against the Huskies.
After sweeping them out of the WCHA playoffs last year in St. Cloud, Wisconsin will face a squad that looks quite similar to last year's Huskie squad. After scoring 18 goals and 45 points in his freshman year, sophomore forward Garrett Roe is on pace to eclipse last season's totals. In 11 games, Roe has registered five goals and 13 assists. In goal, junior Jase Weslosky (who went 3-3 last year against the Badgers, giving up 13 goals in six games) is off to another fast start with a 5-3 record and saving .925 of his shots.
Although struggling to a 3-4 record to begin the year, the Huskies are on a four-game winning streak, sweeping Robert Morris and Denver (the same team who out scored the Badgers 13-9 in a series sweep this season) at home. It's only fitting that the Badgers' last road stop in nearly a month will be against another talented, surging WCHA hockey team.
"They're a team that is very highly skilled, and they rely a lot on their power play," said Eaves about the Huskies, who are converting 17.9 percent on the man advantage. "I think going into this weekend, we have to be intelligent about the penalties that we take, and not take very many, I'd like to say none at all, but, and then we have to play hard. I think if we do those two things on that big sheet of ice, we give ourselves a chance to be successful."
Wisconsin (4-6-2, 4-4-2 WCHA) vs. Minnesota-Duluth (7-4-0, 2-3-0 WCHA)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, Nov. 21-22 at 7 p.m. CT
Arena – National Hockey Center (5,371) - 200' x 100'
Television - None
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)
Series – Wisconsin leads 39-23-8 (13-10-4 in St. Cloud, Minn.)
Last Meeting – UW fell 4-3 in overtime at St. Cloud State on March 15, 2008 to get eliminated from the WCHA playoffs
Junior defenseman Jamie McBain has points in six consecutive games (2-8=10) and leads the WCHA in league games with 14 points (3-11=14). The six-game scoring streak is the longest of his career. McBain's 14 points in all games shares fourth in the WCHA.
Junior forward Blake Geoffrion has points in a career-high five straight games (6-3=9) and shares second in the WCHA with seven goals. Geoffrion has had two goals in three of his last five games.
The Wisconsin power play keeps chugging along and now has at least one goal in each of its last six games and in nine of its last 10 contests. The team leads the WCHA in league games with a 24.6 percent success rate (16-for-65) after going 2-for-10 last weekend at Minnesota Duluth. The squad is now succeeding on 19.8 percent (16-for-81) of its power plays overall, to rank second in the WCHA in all games.
Wisconsin leads the WCHA in scoring offense, averaging 3.60 goals per game in league contests. The last time the Badgers led the WCHA in scoring offense during the league season was 1981–82, when the team scored 126 goals in 26 games. UW's 3.42 goals-per-game average in all games ranks fourth in the league.