University of Wisconsin season preview

By DJ Powers

The University of Wisconsin Badgers opened their 2005-06 regular season on Oct. 7 when they faced off against non-conference opponent St. Lawrence at the Kohl Center. The Badgers will host this year’s Frozen Four which will be held at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. In the must-see game of the year, Wisconsin will also face off against CCHA powerhouse Ohio State in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game (aka Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic), which will be played outdoors at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Feb. 11. The game will be the first collegiate outdoor game since the 2001 “Cold War” at Spartan Stadium between archrivals Michigan and Michigan State.

Wisconsin looks poised to make a strong run for the WCHA title, even with the fierce competition that already exists in the conference.

The Badgers graduated four players – forwards John Funk and Pete Talafous and goaltenders Luke Kohtala and Bernd Bruckler.

Bruckler leaves Wisconsin with his name firmly etched in the school’s goaltending record books. He finished his final season in Madison with a 17-12-3 record that included three shutouts. His outstanding season performance earned him many accolades, including a selection to the WCHA All-Conference Second Team.

With his departure, this season will feature a new starting goaltender. Junior Brian Elliot (OTT), who was sensational in the few starts that he had last season, will take over the starting job in the Badgers net. He posted a 6-2-1 record that included three shutouts. Elliot became just the sixth goaltender in team history to have posted shutouts in two consecutive starts. The feat happened back on Oct. 16 versus Mercyhurst and the following weekend on Oct. 23 versus Michigan Tech.

Elliott’s athleticism along with his tremendous focus and confidence are some of his best attributes and ones that should serve him well this season. While some have some questions about his reliability, Elliott has steadily grown and matured into a player that could very well surprise many this season. His understanding of the game has also grown under the expert tutelage of Bill Howard.

Along with Elliot, Wisconsin will have two newcomers that will be battling for ice time in the backup role in Shane Connelly and Ryan Jeffery. Connelly comes to Wisconsin from the Chicago Steel (USHL), where he went 14-17-3 with one shutout. Jeffery comes to Wisconsin from Madison Memorial High School, where he was named team MVP and selected to the All-State First Team in 2004-05.

The Badgers return a very solid group of defensemen that are all returnees. Senior Tom Gilbert (EDM) has become one of the WCHA’s best, while sophomore Kyle Klubertanz (ANA) has become one of the best up and coming blueliners. Gilbert, who logged an average of roughly 30 minutes a game last season, will likely continue to log the same amount of time this season. He finished his junior season with 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) playing in all 41 games. Five of Gilbert’s eight goals came on the power play. Gilbert also co-led the team in plus/minus (+20). His stellar season earned him numerous honors including a selection to the WCHA All-Conference Second Team.

Klubertanz has grown into an outstanding offensive defenseman and sees plenty of time on the Badgers power play. He led all Wisconsin defensemen in scoring last season with 18 points (three goals, 15 assists), also playing in all 41 games. All three of his goals were power play goals. Among the accolades that Klubertanz received included a selection to the WCHA All-Rookie Team.

The Badgers have tremendous depth at the forward position. It is one that rivals those of the many other top programs in the country. The depth at forward will also be Wisconsin’s strength this season. The trio of junior Robbie Earl (TOR), sophomore Joe Pavelski (SJ) and senior Adam Burish (CHI) was one of the nation’s most potent and electrifying line combinations last season and could be again this season.

The always-exciting Earl finished second on the team with 44 points (20 goals, 24 assists). His 20 goals led the Badgers. He also finished tied for first with five game-winning goals.

Pavelski became one of the nation’s top rookie centermen last season. He led Wisconsin in scoring with 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 41 appearances. Pavelski is the first Badgers player since head coach Mike Eaves did it in the 1974-75 season, to lead the team in scoring as a rookie. In addition to scoring, Pavelski either led or co-led the Badgers in assists (29), plus/minus (+20) and power play goals (6). Nationally, Pavelski’s 45 points was tied for first among rookies. He finished second among all rookies in points per game (1.10). His excellent season earned him a selection to the WCHA All-Rookie Team as well.

Burish has become Wisconsin’s penalty killing specialist. Burish is one of four Chicago Blackhawks prospects on the Wisconsin roster this season. He led the team and was tied for first in the nation with four short-handed tallies. He finished the 2004-05 season with 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) in 41 appearances.

Among the other top players making a return to the Badgers lineup include last season’s team penalty minutes leader, senior Ryan MacMurchy (STL), outstanding playmaking junior Andrew Joudrey (WSH) and top faceoff man, junior Jake Dowell (CHI).

Along with the many returning players, Wisconsin welcomes three superb and highly touted forwards to the team this season – Jack Skille (CHI), Tom Gorowsky and Ben Street. Skille comes to Wisconsin from the US National Team Development Program (USNTDP), where he had 55 points (24 goals, 31 assists) along with 76 penalty minutes last season. Skille is a power forward taken seventh overall in the most recent NHL draft by the Blackhawks. Skille brings good size, speed and ruggedness to the Badgers team.

Gorowsky comes to Wisconsin from Sioux Falls (USHL), where he had 53 points (18 goals, 35 assists) in 54 appearances. He led the Stampede in both assists as well as power play goals (seven). The Lino Lakes, MN native was the recipient of the 2004 Mr. Hockey Award, given annually to the top high school player in the state of Minnesota. Gorowsky is noted for his outstanding play around the net and competitiveness.

Street comes to Wisconsin from Salmon Arm (BCHL), where he had 68 points (29 goals, 39 assists) in 56 appearances. He is one of four Canadian-born players on the Wisconsin roster this season. He is also an early top candidate coming out of the NCAA for the 2006 NHL Draft. Street is noted for his tremendous scoring prowess.

(Number of NHL prospects on 2005-06 roster: 12)

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