first_imgAJ MACLEAN/Herald photo With less than one week of full-team practice under its belt, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team begins regular season play this weekend with a series against St. Lawrence. The Badgers are poised to make a run at the Western Collegiate Hockey Association title and perhaps even a national title, but there is a long season ahead, and it starts against the Saints Friday night.The Saints, coming off a 17-19-2 record last season, are predicted to finish fourth by league coaches in the ECAC Hockey League this year.One of the quirks of NCAA practice rules is that the Badgers have had just six days to practice as a full team. They had been conducting four-man practices and spent the entire off-season training for this season, but coaches could not participate over the summer and could not conduct practices with the entire team until last Saturday.”As a team we’ve been practicing for a while now without the coach, but it is kind of a weird situation,” junior forward Robbie Earl said. “I’ve been through it the past two years, so I’m used to it.”Wisconsin will get its first look at goalie Brian Elliott since he took over the No. 1 spot in net. The junior, who played in nine games last season spelling All-American Bernd Bruckler, is anxious to prove his worth.The Badgers may also look for some help in net from freshman Shane Connelly, as Elliott is still trying to get back to 100 percent after injuring his foot a few weeks back.”Well, I believe that he’ll play this weekend. I just don’t know if it’ll be two games or one game,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “It’ll depend on his health. I think we’ve done a pretty intelligent job of getting him back in the mix. I mean, his foot is healed. It was just a matter of not giving him too much.”Connelly has a quite a bit of experience coming from the United States Hockey League, but is still adapting to a new style of playing the position.”He’s going through a bit of a metamorphosis right now being under Coach [Bill] Howard,” Eaves said. “I think his eyes are probably the widest open of anybody on our team because Coach Howard is actually taking him back two steps to help him go five steps forward.”The Saints will also have a new top goalie in net this season. Kevin Ackley, a graduate student at the school, took a medical redshirt last season due to a knee injury, but has plenty of experience between the pipes.Another big question will be on the Badgers’ offensive end. Wisconsin showed it had a plethora of scorers last season, but the scoring production fizzled down the stretch, leaving many scratching their heads.But the young team has another year of experience and returns almost all of its scoring from last season. It will be counting on another great season from the standout duo of Earl and Joe Pavelski, who combined for 89 points in 82 games a year ago.Additionally, Badger fans will get their first look at freshman forward Jack Skille, the seventh overall pick of the NHL Early Entry Draft last season.”After working out this summer, I feel like I’m even stronger on my feet now, and I feel like I’m even more ready for this season,” Skille said.But Eaves pointed to another player who he thinks is set to have a breakout season — sophomore Matt Ford.”Everybody has grown … but I see [Ford] out here and he’s looking like a different young man,” Eaves said. “He’s trimmer, he’s fitter, he’s come out here with a great purpose. I think he represents the epitome of what we’re talking about in terms of growth. He represents what I hope everybody has in taking a big step toward becoming a better player.”The Saints will look to senior T.J. Trevelyan, who posted 25 goals and 45 points last season and has accumulated more than 100 points in his career.The Badgers have faired well against St. Lawrence over the years, winning 10 of the 12 games between the schools and tying once, with the last meeting coming in 2000. They will be looking for their third-straight season-opening victory under Eaves.Most importantly this weekend, Wisconsin will get its first chance to see how the summer preparation has paid off.last_img