Elliott down; Connelly steps to challenge

first_imgTalk about being thrown right into the fire.With UW junior goalie Brian Elliott injuring his left leg at practice Wednesday, freshman Shane Connelly — who has yet to see action in a regular season game — has quickly become the center of attention as the No. 1-ranked Badgers host No. 19 Denver this weekend.”This would be a first,” Connelly said after practice Thursday as he was surrounded by a group of reporters. “It’s something new. I’m pretty excited.”Elliott had been nothing short of spectacular between the pipes through UW’s first 22 contests, compiling an 18-2-2 record, a 1.40 goals against average and a .946 save percentage. He was the top goalie and arguably the best player in the country this season.Now he will be forced to view the next 3-4 weeks in street clothes.The only action outside of practice Connelly has seen since joining the Badgers’ squad at the beginning of this season came against the United States Under-18 team a month ago.The Cheltenham, Penn. native made 19 saves but gave up five goals as Wisconsin picked up a 6-5 come-from-behind victory.It was not quite the debut that Connelly had hoped for, but he said getting to see some action did help his progress.”I watched the tape, went back to work with [goalie coach Bill Howard] and just got in the flow a little more,” Connelly said. “I’ve watched a lot of gamedays, but now I’ve got one under my belt. More confidence is the biggest thing.”Included in the five goals allowed were a few that slipped through his legs, which undoubtedly he would love to have back.But that performance is in the rearview mirror at this point, and Connelly will be thrust into the limelight under the grandest of circumstances.Not only will he be making his official debut for the top-ranked team in the country looking to knock off the two-time defending national champion Pioneers, he will be doing so in front of a sold-out Kohl Center.”I never thought it would be my first WCHA game, but it’s arrived,” Connelly said. “I’m more excited than nervous.”Connelly has been preparing all year and each individual weekend just in case he would be needed.”Each weekend you kind of get your mindset just in case, get ready,” Connelly said.That “just-in-case” moment happened to come Wednesday.”This is obviously one of the biggest days of my life coming up … I’m just excited and ready to go,” Connelly said.”I think I’m ready.”Knocking off the PioneersThere is no doubt that both teams will have bulls-eyes on their backs at the Kohl Center this weekend.Denver will be trying to defend its national title while the now-battered Badgers trying to hold onto their No. 1 ranking and maintain their lead in the WCHA, and this is the only time they will see each other in the regular season.”What it adds up to is another great weekend,” Eaves said. “That becomes a natural motivator.”Denver struggled a bit last weekend, splitting with St. Cloud State, but remains tied for second in the WCHA with Minnesota, eight points behind Wisconsin.Even though they will be without Elliott, the Badgers are taking this series as if it were any other.”Nothing’s going to change this weekend,” senior assistant captain Tom Gilbert said. “We’re going to come out hard, score some goals and get four points this weekend.”In league games, Denver ranks fourth on offense with 3.31 goals per game and also has the third-best defense, allowing 2.62 goals per game.They have two of the top three scorers in the league in sophomore Paul Stastny and junior Matt Carle, but senior Gabe Gauthier may be the biggest threat.”Gauthier is their biggest talent,” senior captain Adam Burish said. “We’ve got to be real aware when he’s on the ice.”Between the pipes, the Pioneers have split time between the talented duo of sophomore Peter Mannino (2.35 GAA, .917 save percentage) and junior Glenn Fisher (2.77, .901).The Badgers will probably have to knock in a few extra goals — which wasn’t a problem when they scored 12 in two games at Colorado College last week — if they hope to be successful.UW, along with boasting the toughest defense in the league — they are allowing just 1.44 goals per game — can also now lay claim to the WCHA’s best offense, as the Badgers effort last weekend propelled them to 3.94 goals per league game.Of course, without Elliott, it’s a whole new ballgame.last_img read more