Matt Thurber is equal parts excited and apprehensive about getting reacquainted with the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team.
Thurber, from Beaver Dam, played two seasons for the Badgers before transferring to Northern Michigan. The teams open the season with a non-conference series Friday and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
The excitement comes from the fact Thurber hasn't played a meaningful shift since Jan. 30, 2010.
"I'm excited to play a game," he said. "It's been a while."
The anxiety is rooted in not only facing former teammates — senior defenseman Eric Springer and redshirt junior winger Ryan Little are all that remain of that seven-member recruiting class for UW in 2008 — but the harsh circumstances that led to his change of scenery.
"I'm definitely a little nervous about that," Thurber said.
UW coach Mike Eaves dismissed Thurber from the team Feb. 12, 2010 after Thurber was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct stemming from a physical confrontation with his former girlfriend four days earlier.
According to the criminal complaint, Thurber choked the woman and threatened to throw her from a sixth-floor apartment balcony. He pleaded guilty to both charges, which were dismissed on a prosecutor's motion after Thurber fulfilled the requirements of a sentencing agreement.
"I made pretty bad choices and that's something I have to deal with," Thurber said. "It's not something I'll forget, but it's definitely something I've learned from."
Thurber played 43 games for UW, accounting for two goals, nine assists and 11 points. His dismissal came during a season in which the Badgers advanced to the NCAA championship game, losing 5-0 to Boston College.
"Growing up I always wanted to be a Badger and I was given that opportunity," Thurber said. "From my mistakes, I lost that opportunity.
"It was my fault completely for putting myself in a situation where Eaves had to question what he was going to do with me or what the school was going to do with me."
After finishing the semester at UW, Thurber transferred to Northern Michigan and sat out the 2010-11 season per NCAA guidelines. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle said he was aware of the circumstances surrounding Thurber's departure from Madison and that both parties embraced the notion of a second chance.
"The message to him was that he's going to come in here and have a fresh start as long as he does what he has to do," Kyle said. "He's been nothing but great. He's been a really good person. We've had no issues at all."
Thurber, a center listed at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, has caught Kyle's eye by giving a consistent two-way effort on the ice.
"The best description I have of Matt is he's a good soldier," Kyle said. "He doesn't have those All-American-type skills, but he's got good skills. We think he's going to contribute offensively. We think he's going to play both sides of the puck. We think he's going to be a guy that's going to be a hard player to play against."
Thurber, who turned 22 last week, will be playing at the Kohl Center for the first time since he skated in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game against Denver on Jan. 23, 2010.
"I'm grateful for the second opportunity that (Kyle) gave me," Thurber said. "I definitely appreciate life and second chances."