Home Cooking Brightens Badgers
Wisconsin Looking to Capitalize on Long Kohl Center Stretch
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
MADISON, Wis. Home teams in hockey can enjoy an inherent advantage, particularly ones that play their home games on a different-sized ice sheet. And, unlike basketball, for example, there's a specific advantage — they get to see the other team’s skaters on the ice before deciding which of their own players to send over the boards.
Still, hockey is anything but predictable, so the home team frequently loses. That is, unless the home team plays at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is 7-0-1 at home this season, and the Badgers have only lost three games there over the past 12 months.
Maybe it’s because the ice at the Kohl Center is bigger than NHL-sized rinks. Maybe it’s the fact that the Kohl Center is a much larger arena than most college barns. Maybe, as coach Mike Eaves credited, it’s the home crowd and the Crease Creatures — Wisconsin’s notorious student section.
“We seem to get timely goals and good goaltending at home. And we play pretty hard,” Eaves said. “I think our kids enjoy playing in front of the home crowd, and they give us a little extra boost.”
Luckily for the Badgers, they are currently in the middle of an extended home stand, which includes 12 games in a row at in Madison over a two-month span, starting and ending with two new Big Ten foes, Penn State and Ohio State. But Eaves isn’t worried about the team getting too comfortable at home, and having another letdown when it finally hits the road — where the Badgers are 1-5-0.
“We’re at a critical part of our season now,” Eaves said. “So we have to make hay when the sun shines.”
Things were ugly at the start of the season for Wisconsin, with some bad losses. But home cooking proved to be a good remedy. Over the past four games, all at home, the Badgers notched 19 goals from 11 different players.
“When we’re scoring four goals or more, we’re getting contributions from all four lines,” Eaves said. “We find a way to win those when everybody chips in.”
The Badgers are also finding new ways to put the puck in the net. Well, at least one player is.
Two weeks in a row, Tyler Barnes scored a behind-the-back, backhanded goal. The first — a SportsCenter Top 10 goal where he batted the puck out of the air and smacked it through his legs into the net — came when his team had a safe lead against Penn State. But the second, last week against Colorado College, came at the most critical point of the game — overtime — giving the Badgers a 4-3 victory.
“He couldn’t shoot the puck at the net on his forehand, so he turned his body and threw it out on his backhand knowing that had the best chance of hitting something and going in,” Eaves said. “That’s just Tyler being Tyler.”
The holidays don’t offer the Badgers much of a break — even if, on paper, Wisconsin’s opponents appear outmatched. Not only do the Badgers face Alabama-Hunstville (1-17-0) and Alaska-Anchorage (8-8-2) over winter break, they also face the standard holiday challenges, including final exams and tempting family dinners.
“Before they left the locker room Saturday night, we talked about the fact that they have to take responsibility,” Eaves said. “It’s a roll of the dice. Some guys will have ice available to them, some guys will have health clubs to go to. And some guys won’t have anything, so they’ve got to find something in their own way — maybe do a little old time Rocky with some hay bales to keep their strength and conditioning.”
Additionally, Wisconsin will find themselves without star forward Nic Kerdiles, who is headed to Sweden for the World Junior Championships. The last time the Badgers played without Kerdiles (the first 10 games of last season as he served an NCAA suspension) Wisconsin went 1-7-2.
Eaves thinks the rest of the forwards have been stepping up enough to fill the gap that Kerdiles will leave.
In a 7-1 win over Penn State on December 6, seven different Badgers scored. And over the past four games, 16 different players tallied points.
“They are finding their stride offensively,” Eaves said.