Last year, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team overused the metaphor of “reaching the top of the mountain” all the way to a national championship. Now, they are set to defend that mountaintop view.The Badgers will begin the 2006-07 season exactly where they left off, tied with Boston College as the nation’s top ranked team. Last season, Wisconsin took the national hockey scene by storm with a 30-10-3 record before dominating the postseason en route to their sixth national championship in program history. UW will begin the season with a huge target on their back as week in and week out teams will look to dethrone the champs. According to Badgers head coach Mike Eaves it is a situation the team is comfortable with.”I think being at the University of Wisconsin, what we consider one of the elite hockey schools, there is always pressure, when you play in front of 15,000 people there is always pressure, when teams come in here they always bring their A game and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Eaves said. “The fact that we won the National Championship I think that target might be highlighted a little more but nevertheless it something we deal with everyday.” Last year, the Badgers had one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the nation averaging more than three goals a game. The Badgers bring back a strong core of scorers from last season with Jack Skille, Ross Carlson and Andrew Joudrey all returning to the team — but replacing three of the team’s four leading scorers from a year ago will be no easy task. Captain Adam Burish and assistant Tom Gilbert graduated, and Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski left school early for the National Hockey League. “Last year the biggest riddle we had was wondering about Brian Elliot,” Eaves said. “The biggest riddle we have upfront is who can we put together to create some chemistry to score some goals for us and provide the offense we got last year.”While replacing the offensive firepower is the one query surrounding the defending champs, Eaves can sleep easy knowing he has a rock of stability between the pipes. Hobby Baker Award finalist Brian Elliot was the best goaltender in the nation last season, and he will undoubtedly be asked to carry a similar load in his senior campaign. “When you’re building or analyzing a hockey team the first place you look is at the goaltender and we know what we have with Brian Elliot,” Eaves said “Whenever you’re going to win a championship you’re going to need great play by your goaltender … I don’t see any reason why Brian can’t play at that same high level he did last year just because of the young man he is and the skills he brings mentally and physically.” Elliot’s teammates are equally confident in his abilities.”I know he’s (Elliot) going to have a great year again, seeing Brian in practice I can’t even score on him,” sophomore forward Jack Skille said. “It’s just like shooting on a brick wall right now.” Defensively, the Badgers will be returning all of their impact players minus last year’s team captain Tom Gilbert, and with Elliot in net, opponents should have a tough time lighting the lamp. Last season the stingy Wisconsin defense gave up a miniscule 1.8 goals per game while also making significant contributions in the offensive zone. “[Tom] Gilbert was a great player and he had an offensive edge to him. I think myself and the rest of the defensemen can definitely bring a little more offensive power to our games,” UW senior defenseman Jeff Likens said. “He definitely leaves big shoes to fill but we have six defensemen who have all played and I think we can do a good job of maintaining the kind of defense we had last year.” When the Badgers take the ice for the first time this season they will face off against Northern Michigan Friday and embark on a journey that will hopefully end in St. Louis for the 2007 Frozen Four. Eaves, however, knows that getting back there will be no easy task. “We have a saying that the mindset of pursuit has to be more active and aggressive when you’re defending something,” Eaves said.