UW Goaltenders wait their turn

first_imgView Gallery (2 Photos)Wisconsin’s Shane Connelly and Scott Gudmandson have taken similar paths in their careers at the University of Wisconsin.Connelly was the backup to All-American goalie Brian Elliott for two seasons before assuming the starting spot as a junior last year. In his time as a reserve, Connelly saw action only sparingly, playing in just 16 games through two seasons.Now, Gudmandson has been backing up Connelly for the past two years. As a freshman last season, Gudmandson saw time in six games, including three starts. This year, he’s played in just four contests. The minutes he logged in net against Denver two weekends ago were the first time he was on the ice since a 6-0 shutout performance against Michigan Tech in early November.But in a matter of a few games, the torch will be passed from Connelly to Gudmandson, just as it was passed two years ago from Elliott to Connelly.“When I turned a junior, Brian said, ‘It’s going to be a crazy ride.’ And his parents said the same thing to my mom and dad,” Connelly said. “Every week’s been a new test for me being in this role. It’s definitely been awesome, but it’s been crazy.”Elliott left UW with the best career goals against average (1.78) in school history, the most shutouts of any Badger goalie (16), and was eighth all-time in win percentage (.643). Certainly, Elliott was a big part of Wisconsin’s NCAA title in 2005-06 and was able to teach Connelly a few things before graduating the following season.“His work ethic was extremely awesome,” Connelly said. “He came to work every day. I really learned from that knowing that he was ready for practice. He took care of himself on and off the ice and he was ready to go. … I think that’s one of the biggest things was how composed he was in any situation.”“Both their work ethics are just unbelievable,” junior defenseman Jamie McBain said. “I think Shane learned from Brian just how to work and what needed to be done in order to be successful in this league.”Connelly knew what the situation was when he got to Madison: watch and learn from Elliott for two seasons before becoming the go-to guy. And that’s exactly what Connelly did when he came to Wisconsin from the Chicago Steel of the USHL.“There was no one else better than him in the country,” Connelly said of Elliott. “So it wasn’t a shock that he was the man.”Connelly still keeps in touch with his predecessor, who now plays for the Ottawa Senators in the NHL — something Connelly hopes is in his future as well.“We talk every now and then through text messages, mostly. I don’t want to bug a pro athlete too much,” Connelly said. “He’s having a ton of fun up there, and that’s my goal. I want to follow his steps.”Roller coaster rideConnelly’s time as a Badger has been one of highs and lows. As a freshman, he was the starter in perhaps one of Wisconsin’s most memorable games in recent history: a 4-2 win over Ohio State at Lambeau Field in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic. The game was part of an eight-game stretch in which Connelly started in place of Elliott, who was out with a knee injury.Certainly, the victory at Lambeau was one of the highest points of Connelly’s career.“It was awesome. It’s just mind-blowing that that kind of support would come out for a hockey game, and you’d be on the most historic field in football,” said Connelly, a Philadelphia Eagles fan. “Just leading up to that, there was so much excitement just to be a part of that game. And when I knew I was going to start, it was even cooler.”There have been other big games for the senior from Cheltenham, Pa., as well. A 6-2 win over Denver in last year’s NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal is near the top of the list, as is a 43-save shutout against North Dakota early last season.“I think that was one of my favorite games,” Connelly said of the shutout.“You take a look at some of the big games that he’s stepped into, playing in front of 41,000 in Green Bay and our WCHA Final Five game [against St. Cloud State] where we put him in the game once the game was started,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “He’s been under some big time games, and he’s provided us with some victories in big time games.”And then, of course, there was the national championship run of the 2005-06 season that culminated in a 2-1 victory over Boston College in the finals. Connelly wasn’t in net during any of the postseason push, but he still won’t forget the feeling.“It was such a big stage,” Connelly said. “To go in there and just see all the attention, the skill level, and being in Milwaukee, it was an amazing experience.”For every memorable game, there have been a few memorable saves as well. A highlight-reel stick save in that same North Dakota series a year ago comes to mind as a frontrunner for the top save.“He robbed (North Dakota forward) Brad Miller on the shot where he kind of scooped it out with his stick,” McBain said. “That’s the best one I’ve seen.” “North Dakota, the two times I’ve made really crazy saves and ended up not winning a game,” Connelly said. “People tell me I’m on YouTube and stuff, but I’ve seen it — I’ve lived it. I don’t need to watch it again.”But both Connelly and Gudmandson faced a tumultuous period at the beginning of this season when goaltender coach Bill Howard resigned in the offseason. In stepped Mike Valley, a former UW goalie who served as a volunteer coach for the Badgers for a good portion of the season before stepping down in January.Since then, the netminders have been without a true position coach.“It’s definitely difficult when there’s a change like that,” Connelly said. “I think it was for the best to help me advance in my career. Mike’s been working with pro goalies and has been around the game, so he knows what to expect.”Passing the torchWhenever Wisconsin’s season ends — whether the Badgers make a run in the WCHA tournament and earn an NCAA bid, or fall in the conference playoffs — it will be Gudmandson’s turn to assume the role of starter. Along with Connelly, senior backups Jeff Henderson, from Menomonie, Wis., and Madison native Ryan Jeffery will also be ending their careers at UW.Wisconsin is expected to bring in a pair of goalies in Aaron Crandall and Brett Bennett. Crandall has played the past two seasons with Des Moines in the USHL but has struggled this year. Bennett, formerly of Boston University before being let go by the team after last season, is a fifth-round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes.Gudmandson knows the job isn’t guaranteed to him, but he’s ready to do everything he can to solidify his spot in net.“I’m coming in expecting that it’s my job to lose,” Gudmandson said. “But at the same time I have to come in and work hard every day. I can’t take it for granted.”“He’s made tremendous strides,” Connelly said. “He’s battled his own demons here. I’ve played a bunch, and every day in practice he gets better and pushes me. He’s ready for it.”Much like Connelly, Gudmandson knew he would be relegated to a backup role for a few seasons before being handed the reins. But like Connelly did as Elliott’s backup, Gudmandson has learned the ropes from his tutor.“I’ve learned a lot from watching him,” Gudmandson said. “We’ve had talks; he’s been in similar situations. I know there’s been times when I’ve been a little discouraged when I hadn’t been playing as much as I wanted to. He’s been a good guy to talk to about that because he’s gone through the same thing.”Earlier this season, it appeared as if Gudmandson may get a decent amount of time in net. He played the first two Saturdays of the season — losing efforts against New Hampshire and Denver — after Connelly played Friday.“When the season started like that, I was really hoping for it to keep going,” Gudmandson said. “That’s not the way things worked out. [Shane] got really hot and was playing really well, so I understood that they had to keep going with the hot hand.”It’s yet to be seen how Gudmandson will fare as the top goalie, but if his path continues to mirror that of Connelly’s, he’ll likely hit a few bumps along the way. But Gudmandson has seen how Connelly has handled adversity throughout his time at Wisconsin.“The one thing he’s done really well in his career here is he bounced back after a tough game,” Gudmandson said. “I think the difference between good goalies and great goalies is that a good goalie will have a bad game, but a great goalie doesn’t have back-to-back bad games. And [Shane] has shown that throughout his career here.”“He knows what they expect here, and he knows it’s going to be tough, but I think he’s more than capable of handling it,” Connelly said of Gudmandson. “I’m glad for him to have a chance to do what I’ve done for the past two years.”Regardless of what happens this weekend against North Dakota, Connelly will have at least two more chances in net for the Badgers. But if Wisconsin hopes to make it far in the WCHA playoffs — and perhaps even earn a spot in the NCAA tournament — it will count on the senior goaltender to get it there.“Whatever kind of team you have, you always have to rely on your goalie,” McBain said.The Badgers will certainly rely on Connelly this weekend and beyond much like they leaned on Elliott just a few years ago.But Connelly hopes that’s not the final comparison drawn between the two goalies.“My main goal is to make it to the NHL. I believe I can, it just might take some time. I’ve got to pay my dues, but that’s my goal,” Connelly said. “I’ve been a hockey player my whole life. I feel like I’d be wasting an opportunity if I didn’t try.”last_img

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