ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Less than a week into a new season and already Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has submitted an entry for, “Understatement of the Year.”
When the UW entourage left Madison, Wisconsin, and began its day-long journey to Anchorage, Alaska on Wednesday morning, there were eight true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen among the 22 players.
|Tim Davison (RS)||D|
|Corbin McGuire (RS)||F|
Eight of the newcomers will be in the lineup tonight when the 10th-ranked Badgers take on Alaska-Fairbanks in the opener of the Kendall Hockey Classic at Sullivan Arena.
By the time UW meets host Alaska-Anchorage in the second game Saturday night, it’s possible all 10 newbies will have made their college debuts.
If the odor of anxiety and nervous energy wasn’t strong enough, more than half the players will be taking six-week exams on the trip — with at least one of the front-liners, senior goaltender Joel Rumpel, having multiple assignments.
“There’s a lot going on right now,” Eaves said. “A tremendous amount.”
It’s enough to overwhelm even the most veteran of units, but Eaves not only downplayed the moment for his uncommonly young group, he removed any temptation to use it as an alibi.
“People say it’s hard; it’s not hard,” he said. “It’s a challenge and you have to manage that challenge.”
Carrying the weight of that message are three elected co-captains: Senior defenseman Chase Drake is the captain. Senior center Joseph LaBate and senior winger Brad Navin are the assistants.
Their first order of business on opening weekend is to help manage the emotions of youth as they get ready to make their first impression. The freshman class, 11 in all, is the largest at UW since 1974. Throw in the two redshirts — Green Bay defenseman Tim Davison and winger Corbin McGuire — and you have a lot of pent-up anticipation.
“It’s a whole new world basically,” said LaBate, the top returning scorer for the Badgers. “I know they’re really excited about playing their first game. That’s all they talk about off the ice.”
Four of the true freshmen in the lineup tonight are 18 — defenseman Jack Dougherty, Waunakee defenseman Keegan Ford, winger Cameron Hughes and center Ryan Wagner — and it’s expected they’ll play major roles right from the start.
“There’s a lot of energy in the locker room,” Navin said. “Guys just want to get out there and play.”
The three elected leaders followed diverse paths to this moment. Drake redshirted his first year and saw action in 20 games during the next two seasons before becoming a regular in 2013-14. LaBate, a fourth-round NHL draft pick of Vancouver, has made steady, if unspectacular gains as a fixture in the lineup. Navin, a seventh-round NHL pick of Buffalo, came to UW right out of high school and is still looking to maximize his booming shot.
Their personalities — a mix of easy-going, even-tempered and straightforward — have combined to form an effective voice.
“They have a pretty good balance,” Eaves said.
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) October 7, 2014
Drake, who was the captain of the football, hockey and baseball teams at Mosinee High School, admits he talks more when he’s angry, but he tries to let his presence carry the day.
“I think I like to let my actions take care of my voice,” he said.
Drake joins Davis Drewiske of Hudson (2007-08), Adam Burish of Madison (2004-06), Erik Raygor of Superior (1996-98), Barry Richter of Madison (1992-93) and Marty Wiitala of Superior (1985-86) as Wisconsinites to wear the “C” as captain.
Said Navin: “Guys respect [Drake] enough to know that if he’s telling them something it’s going to be important.”
Said LaBate: “He’s basically seen it all.”
The primary challenge for the three leaders was innocently defined earlier this week. LaBate was asked to name all 11 newcomers and he did so with little trouble, mainly because one of his best friends, defenseman Cullen Hurley, is in the class. Navin, meanwhile, labored with names and faces as his mind silently navigated the dressing room.
“I got them all jumbled up,” Navin said.
It’s one of many growing pains the Badgers are sure to endure during the coming months.
“We’re going to go through a lot, especially at the beginning of the year,” LaBate said. “Guys have a lot of questions and we’re just learning new systems.
“We have to be patient and see the positives every day.”
— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) October 10, 2014