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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024
Tyler Barnes

Head coach Mike Eaves, in an attempt to improve his team’s penalty kill, is turning to his top-liner forwards for help.

Moving forward; St. Cloud State up next

Through the first month of the season, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team (3-3-0 WCHA, 4-4-0 overall) has surpassed the expectations many had for it coming into this year.

The Badgers’ .500 record is better than many would have predicted in a month where they had to play the likes of North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. But as the calendar moves forward, Wisconsin faces a new set of challenges, particularly in St. Cloud, Minn. where the boys in cardinal and white will take on St. Cloud State (1-1-0 , 3-4-1).

In the past few weeks, the Badgers have been forced to deal with a couple injuries to important players, none as important as the loss of junior forward Derek Lee during last Friday’s game against UNO.

Without Lee, one of the Badgers’ most valuable penalty killers, the Mavericks went on to score four goals on the power play. Penalty killing has been a problem for the Badgers all year (they rank last in the WCHA with a penalty kill percentage of 67.6 this season), and losing Lee certainly didn’t help.

Earlier this week, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said he has had to tinker with his penalty kill units in the wake of Lee’s injury.  Still, Eaves believes the lack of penalty killing experience on the roster will provided room to experiment.

“We basically had two guys returning that had killed penalties, so we’re trying a lot of different people,” Eaves said. “It’s an area that we know we need to get better. We’re doing some good things, we just need to shore it up a bit.”

“It’s a huge riddle that has to be solved,” he added.

To improve the penalty kill, Eaves has inserted sophomore forwards Mark Zengerle and Tyler Barnes into that role. Last weekend was the first time they had seen time on the PK.

“It was a nice little surprise to see that they did execute some things,” Eaves said. “They were both willing to block shots and do some of the hard things.”

The role of a penalty killer is not usually filled on a hockey team by two top-line forwards, but according to Barnes, it is a role he is willing to fill for the sake of the team.

“[Penalty killing] is something I take pride in,” Barnes said. “Being a top-line guy, it’s good for the team to see that you’re willing to go out there and block shots and do what is generally considered a power forward’s role.” 

But penalty killing hasn’t been the only way Barnes—and the rest of the team for that matter—has stepped up recently. Over the past two weekends the Badgers’ offense has produced 20 goals, and more impressive than that, those 20 goals have come from 13 different players.

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“We said from day one that if we were going to have goal scoring on this team, it was going to be by committee,” Eaves said. “That’s the formula that has been there in the past two weekends, and hopefully that’s the formula that continues to perform for us.”

Wisconsin lost a big chunk of last seasons offense over the summer when three of their top five scorers left.

“When you lose guys like Craig Smith and [Jake] Gardiner there are a lot of roles to be filled,” said Barnes, who is currently riding a seven-game point streak. “There have been a ton of guys stepping up. It’s a whole team effort. We’re all working together as a unit to fill those voids.”

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