Badger Backbone ... Elliott
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
The Wisconsin Badgers have played over 11 periods of hockey since they have allowed a goal. A big reason for their defensive success? Goaltender Brian Elliott, who on Thursday was named one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
"Brian Elliott has been the backbone of this team," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "For a good, solid hockey team, it always starts between the pipes and then you build your way up to the defense and down the middle of the ice. He's given our defense confidence, and we've fed off that."
Elliott, a junior, has put up some astounding numbers for the Badgers as he tries to become the first goaltender since Michigan State's Ryan Miller (2000) to win the Hobey.
For the season, Elliott's goals-against average stands at a miniscule 1.55, and his save percentage is .938. Both marks lead the nation, as do his eight shutouts and 25 wins.
Perhaps no win was bigger, however, than the 40-save shutout of Cornell in last weekend's Midwest Regional Final, when Elliott went toe-to-toe with Big Red goaltender David McKee in one of the most memorable goaltending matchups in college hockey history.
"McKee and Elliott put on a clinic," said Eaves, in a classic understatement.
Added Elliott, "It was almost surreal how nothing was going in at both ends. It was definitely a game that I'll never forget. When I was back there, I felt like we weren't going to lose, and I was just kind of holding the fort until our forwards put the puck in the net. But obviously, McKee definitely played well."
Following the game, the goaltenders shook hands at center ice and had the opportunity to exchange a few words.
"We just congratulated each other," said Elliott. "He said, 'You've been having a great year. Keep it up,' and I just said, 'I hope I see you next year some time.' It was just a brief little shake of the hands, and I think we both understood that it could have gone either way."
They won't face each other next year unless it's in the AHL or NHL; McKee signed with Anaheim this week.
Elliott, a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, will try and extend his shutout streak on Thursday in the Frozen Four game against Maine. However, the Black Bears are coming off an impressive offensive weekend, scoring 11 goals to advance out of the East Regional.
And the Wisconsin goaltender took notice.
"They play a similar way to us," said Elliott. "They're responsible on the defensive end, but they can also put the puck in the net. They scored five goals on Michigan State, and we know how good defensively Michigan State has been this season and in seasons past."
Certainly, the Badgers feel fortunate to even have Elliott between the pipes in the first place. Earlier this season, a leg injury caused the goaltender to miss several weeks, during which the Badgers began to struggle.
"When we lost him for a while, we had to adjust," said Eaves, "but he was able to get back in time to get his game back, and we're at the point we were before Brian got hurt, so that's a good thing for our club."
"It's obviously unfortunate that I got injured at the time I did," added Elliott. "It was pretty lucky as well because I knew I could come back and be a factor at the end of the season and into the playoffs. We talked all season about playing the best hockey at the end of the year. Right now, I think we're playing even better hockey than we played at the beginning of the year. We're more responsible."
Fortunately for Wisconsin, Elliott returned in time to lead the Badgers through the stretch run, and now, to the program's first Frozen Four in 14 years.
"It was our goal to get there from the start of the year," said Elliott. "It's just started to sink in now. Before, it was like, are we actually going? We've looked forward to this all year long. In Milwaukee, a lot of our fans are going to be there. I almost want to start [right now]."
"There's a buzz around the town, and there's a buzz around the campus that something big can happen, especially with our girls winning the national championship as well," continued Elliott. "The support shown by our classmates as well as the entire town has been unbelievable.
As for the possibility of winning college hockey's most prestigious individual award?
Said a humble Elliott, "I went on the Hobey website and just looked at the past finalists and winners. Some of the names up there have done great things since their college career. It's an honor to be mentioned in the top three in the country, from an individual standpoint. Obviously, as a goaltender, you have to thank your teammates and your defensemen for blocking shots anc clearing rebounds
"But I don't think I'm going to prepare a speech or anything. I just think that we're going to go in and try to win a game on Thursday."