Veteran UW broadcaster exiting

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Posted by on August 23, 2008 at 20:44:46:

Todd D. Milewski: Long, successful chapter in UW hockey history has closed

A generation of hockey viewers in this state grew up with Bill Howard's tell-it-like-it-is analysis of the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team.

Those appearances as the color commentator on Wisconsin Public Television broadcasts may have been the public face of Howard, but it was on the ice where the longtime UW assistant coach and goaltending guru made his impact.

He did it much the same way, by telling it like it is.

Howard, who on Friday announced he was resigning from his volunteer assistant position after 36 years with the program, has to be mentioned along with Bob Johnson as a builder of the Badgers' program, if not for his longevity, for his track record with goaltenders.

To be sure, it's a player's talent that makes him special, but more often than not it was Howard's tutelage that put UW goalies at a high level.

How high? How about eight All-Americans at one position in those 36 seasons?

Howard's goaltenders surely didn't always like it, but he demanded the pursuit of perfection out of them in practice.

"If they don't do it right," Howard once said, "they go back and do it until they do it right."

That kind of expectation isn't uniquely Howard's, but when you consider how much the position he coaches has changed since he started, it's remarkable that he is able to as effectively mold talent now as he was when he started.

If you compared footage of a goaltender from the early 1970s to one from today's game, you would see vast differences, from the way they stand in front of the net to the size of their equipment to their activity outside of the crease.

Staying ahead of change keeps you current, and Howard has done that by adapting the technique he teaches over the years. The latest version emphasizes control of motion and angles.

What Howard could do with a goaltender was perhaps best demonstrated by his work with Brian Elliott.

Elliott proved to be an incredible talent when he was given the reins as the No. 1 goaltender in his junior season in 2005-06, and his work ethic was as much a factor as anything.

But most goalies struggled at least briefly in the transition to Howard's system at Wisconsin. Elliott made that seem insignificant by the time he was the starter, putting together the best individual season for a goaltender in UW history and backstopping a national champion.

Howard called him the best he's ever had in controlling the game.

When Elliott was up for the Hobey Baker Award two years ago and the Badgers were on their way to their sixth national championship -- Howard was a part of the coaching staff for all of them -- Howard gave some clues as to what would eventually lead to his parting with UW.

"As long as coach (Mike) Eaves and the other coaches let me stay involved in the coaching part as well as the goalie part, I'll probably continue to coach," Howard said then. "I don't want to just come coach goalies and go home. I've coached too long to just do that."

In the last few years, Howard's role in practice has been increasingly limited to goaltender work.

UW has a tall task in replacing Howard, not only because of the legacy but because the position became a volunteer one in the 1990s when the NCAA limited hockey teams to two paid assistants.

Among Howard's former pupils, one of the first thoughts is of Mike Valley, who is currently involved with a Madison-based hockey testing company. It's unclear if there would be interest from both sides there or with Madison native Jeff Sanger, who, like Howard, played goaltender at Colorado College.

This much is clear: With Howard resigning to -- as he put it in a statement released by Wisconsin -- move in a different direction in his teaching pursuits, a long and successful chapter in UW hockey history has closed.

(The Capital Times)

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