Monday, Dec. 8, 2008

Men's Hockey wins 6 straight, takes conference lead

By Nicole
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Voting should end now and Mike Eaves should win coach of the year this season.

After an abysmal 0-6-1 start to the season, the Badgers were looking rough, run-over and ragged. They started with 5 of 7 on the road, with the only home games being against Minnesota - never an easy task. They faced the #1 and #4 teams in the country the first weekend and it didn't let down from there.

Now, the team is 9-7-2 and holds sole possession of first place in the WCHA - one point ahead of Minnesota (who, by the way, have played four less games than Wisconsin).

I'm pretty new to the whole hockey thing, but I'd wager that kind of turnaround is fairly unprecedented.

Quick research shows that Andy Baggot over at the BadgerBeat blog broke it down:

 Prior to this season, the Badgers have fallen at least six games under .500 four times going back to when they joined the WCHA in 1969-70. At no time during those years did they return to the surface. 

 They finished 12 under in 1975-76 (12-24-2).

 They finished five under in 1979-80 (15-20-1).

 They finished three under in 1995-96 (17-20-3).

 They finished 10 under in 2002-03 (13-23-4).

 The closest UW came was in 1995-96 when it fought back from 10 games under .500 (8-18-2) to finish three under."


Over at 60 min, writer Gandalf the Red looked at the situation on Oct. 29 and laid out how he thought the schedule could and should breakdown just to get the Badgers to .500 before Christmas. It seemed doable, if not a little optimistic at the time.

Not only was he completely correct for the first 4 weeks, but the Badgers then surpassed expectations, sweeping at the College Hockey Showcase and accomplishing the goal a week early.

Two early disappointments of the season were Mike Davies and Podge Turnbull. They were sluggish and lazy looking.

Eaves did the right thing and benched both of them.  He was pretty frank about it and did save the kids a little face by saying it was part injury, part performance.

Davies was held from the roster a little longer than most imagined he would be, but since he's been back he has 3 goals and 2 assists in four games. Clearly he needed to adjust his attitude and refocus and Eaves made sure he did that. It's tough love, but good on Eaves for knowing what it would take to bring back one of his best players.

Thus far unranked, the Badgers throttled #15 Alaska-Anchorage 7-2 Saturday night to extend their win-streak to six. And they did it without Street, Geoffrion, Gardiner to start the game and lost Ben Grotting partway through the first period.

Not only was the score impressive, but so was the scoring. Goals came from six different Badgers who play on all four lines. Turnbull and McDonagh had the most beautiful hockey goal I've ever seen as they caught the Seawolves on a bad line change and Turnbull raced down the ice. Instead of taking a shot, he slotted it to McDonagh who one-timed it back and Turnbull had a split second to slide it in the net before they missed the opening completely. It was gorgeous!

That's the second goal I can think of in which Turnbull cherry-picked and took advantage of an odd-man rush situation. Before he was benched, he was lazily hanging around the blue-line and not going back to support. Now, he's got a lot more movement and it's paying off.

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