Answering Questions

Wisconsin men's hockey team has so much depth and offense returning that many predict big things for a program that has won six national titles. While the offense sputtered in its first weekend, the Badgers saw what having a senior captain and two solid goal tenders can do when added to the mix.

MADISON – Peruse the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team closely and there are plenty of reasons to get excited for their upcoming 2009-10 campaign.

For starters, the Badgers boast seven seniors and nine juniors, making the squad an upperclassmen team for the first time since 2005-06, the last time the Badgers won a national championship. The Badgers return 80.3 percent of their points and 86.7 percent of their goals from last season and have 11 players that have been drafted by NHL teams.

With the offensive prowess the Badgers have entering the season, the amount of light bulbs needed to replace the burnt out goal lamp every week would have put the athletic department way over budget. Maybe that's why UW's offense was so quiet in the Badgers season opening series; everybody is trying to watch their finances.

Only taking one of a possible four points from visiting Colorado College, Wisconsin managed only three goals, despite firing 68 shots on goal in the weekend series. Even more disconcerting was UW played Saturday's game without its three top returning scorers from a season ago – captain Blake Geoffrion was injured and Brendan Smith and Michael Davies were benched for poor play – and senior forward John Mitchell, who had 15 goals a year ago and flirted with the NHL, didn't register a shot one night after firing four.

"I think we learned a little about our team," UW coach Mike Eaves said of the opening weekend. "As much as they want the reigns as an upper classmen team, they aren't quite ready for that yet. They aren't at that level but hey, we just started our journey."

One of the key components on UW's road to a seventh national championship is senior captain Ben Street, who returned Friday to the Badgers lineup for the first time in 380 days after suffering a torn ACL in the fourth game of last season.

Requiring season-ending surgery and receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA, Street, who shared the team lead with 13 goals two years ago, had an immediate impact on the ice, having strong presence with the puck, won plenty of one-on-one puck battles and scored his team's only goal in Saturday's 1-1 tie.

"It was a good feeling back out there," Street said. "It was hard simulating game situations in practice, but being out for a year and coming back, it was a change of pace. It was a little bit of relief, a little bit of excitement."

Added Eaves: "I thought he played really strong. I know in practice he's been frustrated with not being able to put the puck in the net, but that will come."

But if the Badgers had new question marks pop up over the weekend, the series provided some encouraging perspective on Eaves' goaltending situation, as he got two solid performances from their junior goaltenders Brett Bennett and Scott Gudmandson.

Bennett, a fifth-round pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft that spent two seasons at Boston University from 2006 to ‘08, got the nod from Eaves for the opening night start in part because of being better at finishing plays. He showcased those skills despite some jitters, stopping 23 of 26 shots in the opener.

"It was definitely fun and felt good," Bennett said. "It was good to see the type of team that I have in front of me. You take a lot from a game like that. I thought it was an above average game."

After backing up Shane Connelly and appearing in 10 games the past two seasons, Gudmandson answers Bennett's Friday performance with a strong performance of his own, stopping 31 shots.

"I thought both young men stepped up and did their part," Eaves said.

Now, it's time for Wisconsin's offense to do there's so as not to let all this potential go to waste.

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