As many fans know by now, the summer is a very important time for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. While the players cannot formally practice with head coach Mike Eaves or his assistants, the time is particularly important in strength and conditioning.
Summer is the time for players to physically prepare themselves for the upcoming season, as well as bond as a unit. It is also a time for incoming freshmen to join the team and get their first taste of what it means to be a Badger.
But as important as it is for the new Badgers to get used to the rigorous training that goes along with being a member of the Wisconsin hockey team, junior defenseman Jeff Likens thinks that the summer after freshman year may be the most important.
“They’re here before their freshman year, but the year before their sophomore year is a big year for their development,” Likens said. “I feel like everyone did their part in leading them.”
That development was perhaps needed most in the defensive corps. While then-junior Tom Gilbert made an enormous impact on defense, the Badgers relied heavily on freshmen, including Kyle Klubertanz, Joe Piskula and Davis Drewiske.
While these now-sophomores had fine rookie seasons, including a 20-point effort from Klubertanz, there was still room for improvement for the young group.
“Your second summer here you get to know the guys a lot more and you’re strength and your speed and everything goes up,” Klubertanz said. “It was good.”
Likens said that he saw great strides in the group of young blue-liners over the offseason, but noted one player in particular.
“One guy who I noticed in particular that I noticed was Davis Drewiske,” Likens said. “He worked really hard this summer, in his running, his lifting…everything that he did. He really put in a little [more] extra effort than most of the guys on the squad. His improvement off the ice has shown on the ice, too.”
Drewiske tallied one goal and five assists with a +8 rating in 34 games last season, and if Likens is right, the sophomore could be poised for a breakout year.
“One thing about coaching college athletics is young men, their growth over the course of a year and a summer can be a great thing because they’re young,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “And you’re not sure what you’re going to get when they step back on the ice.”
Eaves pointed to another sophomore who has already stood out in the preseason. Forward Matt Ford, who was plagued by injuries last season, appears ready to make an impact.
“Everybody has grown…but I see [Ford] out here and he’s looking like a different young man,” Eaves said. “He’s trimmer, he’s fitter, he’s come out here with a great purpose. I think he represents the epitome of what we’re talking about in terms of growth. He represents what I hope everybody has in taking a big step toward becoming a better player.”
Team readies for play with just one week of practice
It is something that, due to NCAA rules, the Badgers have gotten used to, but the fact remains that teams have just one full week of team practice before they start regular season play.
Teams are allowed to conduct four-player sessions with coaches in the weeks leading up to the season, but could not practice as a full group until Saturday, just six days before the Badgers’ opener with St. Lawrence.
“We spent the whole month of September in either groups of four or captains practices, and the groups of four have the benefit in that you’re able to go back to some details, some real fundamentals, which is fine,” Eaves said. “But it would have been nice to be like basketball and that we would have two hours a week on the ice as a team before we actually get started. We have six practices before we start our games.”
In fact, some teams do not even take those six practices, rather opting to dive into action after one practice and play an exhibition game. But Eaves does not believe that strategy is beneficial.
“I know some schools are going to have a practice and play that night, and you’re putting the student-athlete at risk,” Eaves said. “But the excitement of getting back together and we’ve been waiting for this moment to get on the ice and start the process of becoming a team.”
The veteran players, while they would like more time, have gotten used to having a quick preparation for the first weekend.
“You’d always like to have another week for preparation,” assistant captain Andrew Joudrey said. “The positive way to look at it is that everyone’s in the same boat. We don’t make the rules. So we just do the best to accompany them and go from there.”