Fight for ice time only improves Badgers

first_imgAaron Bendickson scored twice Friday night against Alaska Anchorage. They were his first two goals of the season.[/media-credit]The WCHA may be one of the most competitive college hockey conferences in the country, but during the week, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team experiences that level of competitiveness inside its very own locker room.It’s the daily battles among teammates that go a long way in determining who will face-off against those conference foes.Before head coach Mike Eaves prepares for the weekend’s opponent, he must set his own lineup — something that’s been made increasingly difficult due to the depth on his hockey team.Eaves continually takes advantage of the options he has, and as a result, UW’s fourth line has had a number of different players take the ice in recent weeks.“Without question our depth has been one of our strengths all season,” Eaves said. “The guys that haven’t played up to our expectations thus far we’ve been able to put other guys in because the competition every day in practice is at such a high level.”Cracking the UW lineup has proven to be no easy task. Regular contributors like John Mitchell and Patrick Johnson have been removed when they failed to meet the coaches’ standards, and Johnson is well aware that his spot on the bench is by no means guaranteed.“There is a little bit of added pressure because you have to perform otherwise you’re not going to be in the lineup,” Johnson said. “It keeps you focused and on top of your game all the time, because if you’re not, someone will step in and replace you.”Johnson responded well this past weekend, notching his first goal of the season while adding an assist playing on the fourth line. But according to Eaves, the Madison native is now bringing much more to the table than goal-scoring ability, and that is keeping him in the lineup.“That was the Patrick Johnson that we need to see all of the time,” Eaves said. “He gave us energy, he was a leader on the bench and in the locker room. It’s nice to see him play good hockey again.”But Johnson wasn’t the only fourth-liner who made an impact this past weekend.Aaron Bendickson, a senior forward who has established himself as the fourth center, ended the weekend with two goals to his name. But while Bendickson has started all 10 games for UW, it’s the wingers to his left and right that regularly change.Fortunately for UW coaching staff, that’s not something that phases Bendickson.“It’s not too big of a change for me,” Bendickson said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of the guys on the team pretty well, so it’s not a big deal and I can adapt to it.”So what does Eaves expect from the fourth line that displayed such a strong performance this time around?“Just what you saw this past weekend,” he said. “Every time they came on the ice they gave us energy, and they chipped in offensively. We don’t ask them to carry the weight offensively, but they chipped in and did their job to almost perfection.”Wednesday, Eaves and his staff will determine the lineup for the upcoming series with St. Cloud, but after a solid performance against Alaska Anchorage, it will be difficult for the head coach to make any significant changes. Each player will need to make his case in practice to earn playing time on this talented roster.“We have to make a decision tomorrow about who is going with us on the road trip,” Eaves said. “Guys are playing for that position. We sat down with every young lad here and we talked about what they need to continue to do to get back in the lineup.”One of those players looking to get back in the lineup is Podge Turnbull, a junior who has seen action in six games this season. Turnbull is working tirelessly to get himself back in the mix, and according to the junior forward, it is his work ethic during practice that he hopes will makes the difference.“Everybody feels a little pressure to get into the lineup,” Turnbull said. “We’re really deep and every day you’ve got to come to work. I always come to the rink ready to compete.”Turnbull works to refine his game and steadily improve during the week of practice, and despite the limited playing time, he and the rest of the Badgers fighting for a spot on that last line know they play an important role on this team.“When, you know, you’re sitting out, it can be tough to get over, but for the good of the team you have got to come out even harder,” Turnbull said. “It’s your job to make sure everyone is ready to go even if you’re not in the lineup.”last_img

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