Badgers Reach for New Mix
by Gregg Paul/CHN Reporter
MADISON, Wis. Friday the 13th has long been associated with the bizarre or the otherwise explained.
Last Friday, the 13th, was a day of remembrance as Wisconsin's 2006 NCAA Championship banner was unfurled prior to the start of its against North Dakota. On the other hand, it was a night the Badgers are still trying to forget.
Not only did the Badgers lose a hard fought game in overtime, they also lost three key players to injuries that could drastically alter their quest to defend their title.
Wisconsin punctuated last season's NCAA Championship with a pre-game ceremony commemorating that feat. The sellout crowd was euphoric, cheering on their heroes one final time.
"I think this is more something concrete for the fans that they'll be able to look at and have as memorabilia of the championship," said Badgers' captain Andrew Joudrey.
The brief ceremony was like reliving a dream. Little did the Badger faithful know that dream would quickly turn into a nightmare.
First it was senior Ross Carlson going down with a knee injury. Then sophomore Jack Skille hyperextended his right elbow. Finally, junior Kyle Klubertanz suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
While there is no definitive timetable as to how long each player will be sidelined, it is almost certain none will play this weekend against Minnesota-Duluth, and at least a couple could be out a lot longer.
No one is going to cry for the Badgers when they just won a title. But having already lost several key players to graduation (Adam Burish, Tom Gilbert, Nick Licari, Ryan MacMurchy, and A.J. Degenhardt), and Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl to the NHL, the task of repeating just got a lot tougher. Offense will be at a premium, with the top eight scorers from last year's team now not in the lineup. Throw in nine incoming freshmen and you can see what a daunting task repeating as NCAA champions can be.
On the opening weekend against Northern Michigan at Green Bay's Resch Center, stellar defense, good physical play, and timely scoring were ingredients for the recipe for success.
Now there are certain recipes where you can substitute ingredients and still have a delectable result. And that's what the Badgers are trying to do. They need someone to step up and be a key ingredient to substitute for the injured players — like Matt Ford and Tom Gorowsky.
"Rather than being an understudy, they're going to be stars," said Eaves. "They've got to get out there and be the lead role. It's a big, big chance for them to find out about themselves and for us as a coaching staff."
Eaves hints that these injuries could actually benefit his team in the long run.
"Losing those three guys, there might be a silver lining in that that really highlighted the fact of the way we need to play," Eaves said. "We were maybe a little shorthanded on talent, natural ability, but everybody picked up a piece of the rope and carried it, and we played closer to the identity we want to have, that we need to have as a team, so that maybe is the silver lining of having all those injuries."
Can these players shoulder the load? Or does the entire recipe need to be rewritten?
"I think it's indicative of the way we have to play as a team," Eaves said. "We know that we have tremendous goaltending and veteran defense. We as a group are going to have to manufacture runs to be offensive, and we are going to have to play like we did Saturday night.
"There was where I could tell maybe five times that we went to somebody where we were within a stick length that we didn't finish that check. We have to play at that intensity level for us to have an opportunity to win. And I think that's going to be who we have to be all year."