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Badger Hockey Season Preview: Goaltenders

Do the Badgers have the next Brian Elliott on the current roster?
Do the Badgers have the next Brian Elliott on the current roster?

The list of legends to play goaltender for the Wisconsin Badgers is lengthy. Mike Richter, Wayne Thomas, Brian Elliott, Bernd Bruckler, Curtis Joseph, and Jim Carey all starred for the Badgers between the pipes. Thomas, Richter, Joseph and Carey all went on to storied NHL careers. Elliott is in the early stages of his NHL career and the Austrian born Bruckler is enjoying a fine pro career overseas.

Since the start of Mike Eaves tenure coaching the Badgers, he's employed a two goalie system with a junior/senior starter, and a freshman/sophomore understudy. Elliott was the understudy for Bruckler. Shane Connelly was the understudy for Elliott. Scott Gudmandson was the understudy for Connelly. That all changed the year Gudmandson was set to take over.

Gudmandson had struggled in his first two years in the program and incoming freshman Aaron Crandall was getting lit up in the USHL. Eaves decided to go in another direction and bring in transfer Brett Bennett from Boston University. Crandall ended up at Minnesota-Duluth, and the Badgers ended up with two scholarship goalies that were both in their third season of eligibility. The move immediately paid dividends for the program, as Bennett and Gudmandson were crucial members of the '09-'10 team that made the Frozen Four title game. The side effect was the prospect of having no experienced goaltenders once Bennett and Gudmandson graduated.

That time is now. Welcome to the 2011-2012 Wisconsin hockey season.

There are advantages to starting a freshman goaltender. For one, knowing a few seasons down the road that he would be in a position of starting a freshman out of the gates, Eaves knew that while recruiting goaltenders he had plenty of playing time to hand out. It's hard to put a measure on just how important playing time is in recruiting a goaltender, but given that most programs don't start a goalie until their last few seasons of eligibility, it was an unquestioned advantage for the Badgers.

Looking for that blue chip goalie to take the reigns, Eaves targeted Swift Current, Saskatchewan native Joel Rumpel, the backstop for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League. Turns out Rumpel had some interest in the program himself. Rumpel's uncle, Roy Schultz was an All-American for the Badgers in 1980. One visit to campus during the Camp Randall outdoor game and Rumpel was on board.

With Bennett and Gudmandson getting 100% of the playing time over the past two seasons, walk-on Mitch Thompson had been overshadowed. Thanks to extensive work with volunteer goaltending coach Jeff Sanger and an outstanding work ethic, Thompson has turned himself from an afterthought into an option in goal.

Since you can't go into a season with just two goalies, the coaching staff was on the lookout for an undervalued option to join the program. They found that in Landon Peterson, who is a Wisconsin native but had been playing for Alaska in the NAHL the past two seasons. The Badgers scouted Peterson extensively last season and pulled the trigger on the Oregon, WI native in May.

Originally, Eaves had anointed Rumpel as the starter with Peterson and Thompson battling for the backup job. Things have changed. While Rumpel has held held up his end of the bargain, early reports out of camp are that Peterson has quickly passed Thompson on the depth chart, and is challenging Rumpel for the #1 job. In a blog written on last week, Wisconsin beat writer Andy Baggot quoted Eaves as saying right now it's a coin flip between Peterson and Rumpel for the #1 job.

Even more surprising to some was the following quote from Eaves about Peterson.

"There's that patience and maybe a little bit more maturity there in Landon.''

Eaves would go onto say that this upcoming week will go a long ways in determining early playing time.

The current situation looks like the Badgers may go to a Friday/Saturday rotation with Rumpel playing one night and Peterson playing the other with Thompson getting a shot here and there. I'd be willing to bet that barring a 60 save shutout by whoever starts the opener on Friday between Rumpel and Peterson, the other will start on Saturday.

In my original projections I figured that Rumpel would end up starting 70% of the games this season with Peterson and Thompson splitting the other 30%. Those percentages look to to be off already. Assuming that Peterson and Rumpel split the majority of the games between themselves, look for Eaves to try and hand the keys to the car to one of them with at least a month left in the season.

Regardless of who ends up being the man between the pipes for the Badgers this season, it's going to be one hell of a battle.

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