Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Season Preview: Seniors

Still a tad over 2 months til the season starts out east at Boston College, but its time to slowly work our way back into the swing of things w/ some season previews. I plan to start this month by taking a look each week at each of the respective classes compromising the Wisconsin Badgers Men's Hockey team this season. Today I'll start w/ the seniors. I'm just going to preview the Men's team at this point. I just started following the Women last season, shame on me, so I honestly don't know enough to thoroughly cover them.

The senior class of any college program is usually seen as the backbone of the team due to experience and the additional development a player should receive being in the system for 3 years. In the landscape of college hockey, few if any of the top players across the country make it to their seniors seasons. For example, Jack Skille would have been a senior this season had he stayed in school. Small senior classes will probably be the norm moving forward.

Wisconsin will have 5 seniors on the roster for the 2008/2009 season, but only two of those seniors played a large role on the team last season. Shane Connelly will return in goal, and forward Ben Street will co-captain the Badgers. They are joined by forward Tom Gorowsky, and walk-on goalies Ryan Jeffery and Jeff Henderson. Its notable that their are no defensemen in the senior class. These young men were freshman when Wisconsin won their 6th National Championship, and are the last link to that team.

Shane Connelly is coming off a pretty good season. I've seen a handful of people on message boards saying the opposite, but its few and far between. While Shane's numbers were middle of the pack in the WCHA, Shane wasn't the reason that Wisconsin almost missed the post season for a second consecutive season. The team didn't score enough goals plain and simple. While not spectacular, Shane kept the team in position to win almost every night, what more can you ask? One series in particular against CC at home really sticks in my head to support my argument. Shane did his part, but scoring one goal on the weekend (nice work Sean Dolan) isn't going to translate into wins (WJC departures are not a good enough excuse), even w/ Brian Elliott or Curtis Joseph in net.

I expect much of the same out of Shane this coming season, and I except him to improve. Shane should be pushed by sophomore Scott Gudmandson, hopefully bringing out his best during his last season in Madison.

Ryan Jeffery and Jeff Henderson will be completing their careers at Wisconsin as well. Though neither have seen any ice time in net during a game, their role on the team is critical during practices. I really hope they both find their way into a game this season, possibly during the Badger Hockey Showdown. If not, they still walk away w/ an unforgettable experience and a top notch college education.

As mentioned earlier, Ben Street will co-captain the Badgers along w/ Blake Geoffrion. Ben has been a very consistent producer during his first 3 seasons as a Badger and one of the top forwards on the team. Similar to Connelly, Ben's role on the team this season is very important, not only from a leadership stand point, but as a point producer. Ben can play on the PP and the PK, making him one of the most versitile forwards (along w/ Geoffrion) on the team. Street's play will do the captain's C on this chest justice all season long.

The final senior on the team is Tom Gorowsky. Over the past few weeks, 60 and I have both expressed our thoughts about Tom's situation for the coming season. Tom didn't play much last season especially in the 2008 portion. It could be just as hard for him to crack the lineup this season even w/ the departures of Matt Ford and Kyle Turris; Wisconsin has added a solid freshman class who will all be looking for significant playing time. Hopefully Tom's last season in Madison ends on a high note.

All in all, while the senior class is not huge, Ben Street and Shane Connelly will both be important pieces of the puzzle during the 2008/2009 season. As fans, I think those are two players we can count on game in and game out. Tom Gorowsky is the wild card of the senior class.

Next week, I'll take a look at the juniors. While the senior class is pretty cut and dry, the junior class is chalked full of forwards and question marks, and I'm of the opinion that their play will be one of the keys in whether the ship that is the Wisconsin Badgers Men's Hockey team sinks or sails toward the horizon w/ National Title #7.