The success story of junior goaltender Brian Elliott is one that has exceeded all expectations.
The coaching staff for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team, at the outset of the 2005-’06 season, spoke of a player that had the talent, but would need time before filling the skates of All-American Bernd Bruckler.
Five months later, as the Badgers prep for postseason play this weekend — they host Michigan Tech in a best-of-three first-round WCHA series — Elliott serves as the team’s backbone and most important player.
The Badgers have been at their best this season with Elliott in goal. His 1.76 goals against average and .931 save ratio led the WCHA. The team was 18-2-2 before Elliott injured his left knee in practice Jan. 18 and was forced to miss eight games. During that stretch, the Badgers went 3-5 and allowed more than 3.5 goals per game.
Since Elliott’s return, however, the Badgers have been returning to the early-season form that caught national attention, including eight straight weeks as the No. 1 team in the country. With Elliott playing in only his second full series since returning, the Badgers posted two wins over St. Cloud State. It was the first four-point weekend for UW since Jan. 13-14, Elliott’s last series in goal before the injury.
“It feels good,” said Elliott, who stopped 64 of 65 shots against St. Cloud State, including a career-high 37 Saturday night. “You’re not expecting to do anything really. Just go out there and play your best.”
Elliott said the team is looking forward to the playoffs, and that the recent success has had an impact on practice.
“It’s a different attitude when you come to the rink,” he said. “Guys are more excited to be here. When you win, you enjoy it, and when you enjoy it, you’re winning. I think that’s what a lot of guys are looking forward to.”
To the extent that Elliott played well in the last series of the regular season, he now solidifies himself in serious consideration for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award — to be presented to college hockey’s top player at the Frozen Four in early April.
Last Friday, Elliott joined elite Badger company, tying the UW record for shutouts in a season (four). Then, Saturday’s 3-1 victory made Elliott the first 20-game winner in the nation. Elliott’s performance also earned WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Fully recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him, Elliott said he is slowly regaining the confidence that both he and the team need for a successful run in the postseason.
“It’s good to get out there and feel the same way I felt in the beginning of the year,” Elliott said.