Wisconsin assumes reign atop nations polls

first_imgWith two wins last weekend at the College Hockey Showcase in Michigan, the Badger hockey team garnered the top spot in the national rankings for the first time since Oct. 23, 2000. Wisconsin overcame a one-goal deficit Friday night to earn a 3-1 victory over Michigan State, and they held off the formerly top-ranked Michigan Wolverines Saturday for the 3-2 win.The Badgers are ranked No. 1 in both the USCHO.com and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls. The No. 1 ranking is the first for any team under head coach Mike Eaves, but Eaves doesn’t concern himself with rankings this early in the season.”The only time No. 1 counts is at the end of the year. It’s an early season measuring stick, but let’s not forget how we got to this point. We still have so much to get improved,” he said.Eaves commented he would much rather have his team focus on the things they have to improve as well as the things that got them to this point. Wisconsin so far this season has allowed the fewest points per game in the country, while also having the nation’s sixth best penalty kill. Their power play needs work, however, as the team has converted only 13.5 percent of its chances this season.”It could become a psychological trap if we put a lot of stock into it,” Eaves said of the top ranking. “We talked about the process again. That kind of keeps things at an even keel.”With the top spot in the country comes the pressure of holding that top spot. The Badgers have become a source of motivation for other teams, who will give everything they have to take a win from the best team in college hockey.”We’re quite comfortable with that,” Eaves said. “If we have a bull’s-eye on our back, then we’re doing things that we want to do, we’re going where we want to be.”In the nine national polls released so far this season, five different teams have held the top ranking. Wisconsin’s challenge now will be to hold on to their ranking, especially with a tough Minnesota series on the road this weekend.”We just need to continue to try to keep that bull’s-eye on our back,” Eaves said. “Let’s just keep getting better, and if that stays on our back, then that’s an indicator of a good thing for us.”Some of Wisconsin’s success this season can be attributed to forward Robbie Earl, who has added to his role of flashy scorer this season.When many hockey fans think of Earl, they usually don’t think of his defense. They especially don’t think about his role as a penalty killer more than his role on the power play. But Earl has seen some time during penalty kill situations this season, and he has been effective in his play on the WCHA’s best penalty kill, according to Eaves.”When you’re on the power play and you’re playing against a guy like Robbie, you’re going to be a little more leery, maybe you’re going to think more about how to defend him as opposed to just trying to score,” Eaves said.Earl stands second on the team in scoring with 16 points on the season, with five goals and 11 assists. His ability to make moves that cause observers to do double takes, along with his knack for scoring, has made Earl the target for opposing defenses. But his play on special teams has been something new for him this season.”Robbie is willing to play and understands a little bit more about how to play away from the puck,” Eaves said. “What makes him dangerous as a person you might have on a penalty kill or when the other team pulls their goaltender is the fact that he can make plays.”Eaves said Earl’s special teams play has been an expansion of his game.”His growth away from the puck and his willingness to want to do that makes him a weapon in that area now,” Eaves said.last_img

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