Hagstrom: Connelly must improve for hockey to have shot

first_imgAbsolute pandemonium.Tonight, hordes of people young and old will dress up and celebrate the spirit of Halloween.Some dress up for the laughs, others for the aesthetic appeal, and then there are those who truly want to be someone else. Whatever the case, measured by the pails of candy, clumsy stumbles or Facebook-worthy pictures, the transforming act is an overwhelming success.As is customary on game nights, UW goaltender Shane Connelly will go as Superman.It’s time he starts playing the part.Six straight games against Top 10 foes and the Badgers have gotten off to a 0-5-1 start.The defense is young, inexperienced and mistake-prone. Connelly is a veteran, savvy and… mistake-prone.No question — the defense has been out of position the numerous times the puck has zipped past Connelly.No question — Wisconsin players renting out and residing in the penalty box as their home away from home have put Connelly at a disadvantage.No question — one upperclassman blue-liner and a roster full of NHL-talent defensemen eyed for their open ice and scoring abilities, not the grind it out defense the WCHA plays, have metaphorically grayed Connelly’s hair.The defense is young, the opposition lethal, but the goaltender can still make plays. College hockey is tough. The WCHA is merciless.Connelly still lets in soft goals.No. 35 has been, bar a couple periods and smattering of plays, a sieve. Not in the “drain the water from the pot of noodles sense,” but in the water surging over a useless sandbag levee.Eighteen goals have scored under Connelly’s watch — that’s 4.45 goals per 60 minutes. Only Mercyhurst and Bemidji State — two of 58 Division 1 teams, yes teams — have allowed a higher clip per game. Nine have come in the third period, three times blowing a lead or tie. And Connelly hasn’t started every night. (More on that to come.)The WCHA is known for its defense — and goaltenders. What happened in Wisconsin?While the defense adjusts and slowly grows up, Connelly needs to be Superman. He wears the mask with the “S” shield decal on the back for a reason. Alone, Connelly stands between the enemy and glory.On the top shelf of his locker sits a journal. In it, he describes and recalls opposing player’s tendencies with the puck: where they shoot from, how — wrister, backhand, slap — and in what formation.The scribbling shouldn’t serve as a memento, a “Hey, look what I do during the games;” it should be put into practice on the ice. Time and time again.Not knowing what’s coming and getting beaten is poor scouting. Knowing what’s coming and not being able to stop it is an entirely separate matter.There doesn’t appear to be anyone else anytime soon either. Connelly’s it. UW coach Mike Eaves tried Scott Gudmandson. The results were horrifying.In two games, Gudmandson allowed 12 goals. Do the math. That’s 2003 Detroit Tigers bad. For his career, 3.66 GAA is the number to consider.Save percentage is a better indicator of talent, or lack thereof. The Akili Smith of WCHA goaltenders stops the puck 82.4 percent of the time. Really good teams shoot 10 percent against a variety of talent. More than 14 percent of shots on Gudmandson have scored during his short career.Again, 1976 Buccaneers bad.While superior to Gudmandson, Connelly will never be better than average. He’ll never rank among the Brian Elliotts, Curtis Josephs and Bernd Brucklers of Wisconsin hockey history. That much is true. But without support of the beams and pillars (and Superman preoccupied by Lex Luthor), so too will the hockey team crumble if Connelly gives in.Connelly must continue to fight, as futile as it may sometimes be.Because if Connelly can somehow find it in himself to play with the emotions and excitement of the North Dakota series last November, where he pitched a shutout one night and made an acrobatic save the next, maybe, just maybe, Average-Man will be super enough.Kevin is a former Badger Herald sports editor. Want to talk more Badgers hockey? He’s graduated now, but he can still be reached at [email protected]last_img

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