Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How To Beat a Badger

Back in the day, some fine gentlemen in the English countryside were a pretty bored lot. Their daddy's daddy's daddy had socked away enough loot and titles to keep these gentlemen so comfortable that in their free time they rounded up little critters to torture. One of the little games they came up with was to trap a little bugger called a "brock", put it in a homemade pen then send in each other's dog to determine who's dog could "badger" the poor little git out of the pen. Wow, what a sporting bunch of fine upper-class twits! Sounds almost as fun as setting a couple a dozen hounds on the trail of a lone fox. Ahhhh, the human culture that is created from wealth; where would we be without bored rich assholes? I prefer to believe that my ancestry doesn't include any such elitist turds and instead that I came directly from cave-dwelling neanderthals who took their clubs and smashed little round stones into holes thereby inventing golf. However, my obvious tendency and desire to bait hot-headed over-reacting rubes probably has it's roots in the former. Sigh.

The Badgers we're talking about his week however won't be so easily manipulated. The Seawolves won't be penning them up and pecking away at them. Or will they? First things first here, we need to examine exactly what the Badgers bring to the party. No reason to start anywhere other than with the highly-touted semi-phenom Crosby-to-be freshman Kyle Turris. Ok, so maybe I'm overstating Kyle's potential; he was the 3rd pick in last years NHL draft. So at least a couple of guys probably have the right to the "Crosby-to-be" title. In any case I guess we'll get to see for ourselves what the NHL scouts believe will be a star in that league one day. Turris is the leading scorer on the Badger team with 9 goals and 13 assists in the 18 games he's played in. It is worth noting that only 4 of his goals have come against WCHA competition but that 2 of those came last Saturday vs. DU. His first 5 goals came in the Badgers first 4 games all against non-conference opponents Notre Dame, Ohio State and Robert Morris. Second leading scorer on the team is Ben Street who has potted 6 goals this season in WCHA play with 9 overall. The rest of the scoring the Badgers have done can easily be classified as "by committee"; with 10 guys having between 3 and 6 goals (3@3, 3@4, 2@5, 1@6). So while they aren't scoring at a blistering pace the goals the Badgers get could seemingly come from anywhere on the roster.

Since Eaves took the job at UW they've made their living in their zone first. They won a national championship two years ago with great goaltending and stifling defensive play. Coach Eaves brought the neutral zone trap back to the WCHA week in and week out and they've done well with it. I'm sure Dean Talafous has had more than a few satisfying thoughts at seeing the scheme succeed. Here's what I said in my preseason look at the Badgers:
I overestimated Bucky last year. I gave too much credit to their always excellent defensive play and (like everyone else) didn't see the scoring deficit coming. I placed a lot of weight on their drafted youngsters and expected them to produce. They didn't. But with a year of experience under their belt I'd have to think this year that they'll make up for last years deficit. The addition of Kyle Turris can't do anything but help. I said in the CC section that Tyler Johnson could turn out to be the best rookie in the league. In order to do so Kyle Turris will have to dramatically underachieve. Whoever plays on a line with Turris will likely have career best numbers. Goaltending is a bit of a small question in Madison but don't expect that to hold them back. A year without NCAA participation is a big deal on State Street in Madison and probably not something they'll have to experience in 07-08. For the rest of the league's sake lets just all hope Turris only stays one year. It might not be enough for the Red menace to get to Denver for the Frozen Four but don't count on it.
The small question of goaltending has been answered. Connelly (whom a lot of Badger fans were worried about) has done a stellar job in the nets just as his (overly-hyped) predecessors had done. With Eaves commitment to the defensive side of things pretty much anyone in between the pipes in a Badger sweater is going to do well. Turris linemate junior Ben Street has already surpassed his sophomore point total. It's worth noting that Eaves has juggled his lines a bit recently but some of that is out of necessity with players being at the World Junior championships. With only 4 points more than our 10th place Seawolves it remains to be seen if the Badgers will get back to the NCAA's this year. The Badgers have one of the more experienced set of blueliners in the league with three Seniors (Klubertanz, Drewiske, Engel) but also have talented youth on D with sophomore Jamie McBain and freshmen Brendan Smith and Ryan McDonagh all performing well. The key to their defensive game is the backchecking efforts of the rest of the team. These guys all pretty much know and execute their defensive roles. Penetrating to create chances to score could be a difficult task. But ... and I think this could be a BIG but ... if there is a tailor-made gameplan that can do so, I think UAA's strategy of getting the puck in deep and cycling it could be effective.

The first step for UAA to be effective against the Badgers will be to get the puck through the neutral zone as efficiently as possible. The Eaves-trap is all about denying the opposition time and space from inside the UAA own zone to the UW blueline. The Seawolves will have to use a mix of tactics in order to get the puck deep. UAA defensemen will need to take quick advantage in transition by carrying the puck or making early passes. Give time for the Badgers to set up after they turnover the puck and you're asking for trouble. The fewer times UAA has to "set up" behind their own net to start and the better off they'll be. This weekend the "smarts" of UAA's defensemen will be very important. The neutral zone trap is designed to create turnovers so everyone will have to be aware and smart with the puck in transition. The best possible judgement will be required every time the puck is on a blueliners (or backchecking winger's) stick. When the Seawolves are effective in getting the puck deep into the Bager zone (there'll probably be quit a bit of dumping the puck ... don't complain ... it'll be necessary) they're going to have to execute their cycling game with patience. If the forwards can all be strong on the puck and extend their possession time then they'll eventually create chances. That's how I think the Seawolves could "pen up" the Badgers and peck away at them.

1 comment:

Suze said...

You warned me, so now I won't be able to get away with yelling "no dumping". :(

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