Michigan resembles 2016-’17 Badgers, looks to add to surprising Big Ten run this weekend against Wisconsin

Trent Frederic has not been as dominant as predicted so far this season. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Coming into this season, many thought the Big Ten was going to primarily be a five-team race between Minnesota, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State. Accordingly, Michigan and Michigan State, after poor seasons last year, were largely considered outcasts with little chance to make an impact in a deep conference.

Now, after a 2-1-1 conference start and a 6-3-1 overall start, including a win and a tie against then-No. 4 Minnesota, Michigan has reestablished themselves as a competitive, quality hockey team with legitimate Big Ten Championship aspirations.

Interestingly, this year's Michigan team closely resembles Wisconsin’s team from last season. In 2015-’16, the Badgers had one of their worst seasons historically, only earning three conference victories and going 8-19-8-0 overall. Last year, many pundits didn’t give the Badgers much of a chance in the Big Ten, but under a new coaching staff, equipt with some incoming talented freshman and a newfound drive for success, Wisconsin went 20-15-1-0 and finished the year second in conference.

Michigan, this season, is now under a similar trajectory. After going 13-19-3 and earning only six conference wins a year ago, the Wolverines, like Wisconsin a year ago, have a new coaching staff and young talent — change that is helping Michigan outperform its expectations.

“I see a lot of resemblance [between us last year and them],” head coach Tony Granato said. “I see a team playing loose, I see a team playing energized, I see a team playing to regain their respect nationally. I see them believing in the direction they’re going.”

For players, sometimes any change can elicit a different mindset and can help turn around a program.

“Obviously [the new coaches] helped [last year] and everyone got a fresh start,” senior forward Cameron Hughes said. “The new system, new couches, it kind of gave us all new confidence and we just started playing hockey again and it worked out.”

“I think it’s a fresh start for players. The guys go to the University of Michigan, and the same thing for our guys at Wisconsin, to be a national contender. So when we’re not, you’re looking for anything you can to get back on track to salvage something out of your time at school because it goes fast,” Granato said. “So for Michigan, last year was a long year, but now they get a chance — they get some really nice players that come in to help them with energy, and when you add skill players to your lineup and young energy, they’re going to play well. I think that was a really good recruiting class for Michigan, and obviously they’re playing well.”

Wisconsin was particularly difficult to play against last season because its change in structure made the team believe again. Michigan is now also starting to believe, and it will likely make for an exciting matchup this weekend.

“This is going to be great rivalry again,” Granato said. “This is why you coach, this is why you play, this is why you come to these schools is so you can be a part of big time rivalries and play in games that are meaningful and exciting and in pivotal points of both teams seasons.”

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