This past weekend, I was asked by a friend—one who is in no a way a fan of any athletics whatsoever—what do I love so much about sports? If I am honest, I didn’t have an immediate answer. I couldn’t put my finger on just what made sports so great. Fortunately though, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team explained it for me.
After starting the season 1-7-2, the Badgers weren’t just down—they were out. Out like Marvis Frazier after 30 seconds in the ring with Mike Tyson. Done, finished, throw out the white flag, call in the coroner, etcetera, etcetera.
No team can start the season with a record like that and come out alive on the other end, right? It seemed impossible. Unlike poor Mr. Frazier though, these Badgers got back up.
After freshman forward Nic Kerdiles was reinstated following his 10-game NCAA suspension to start the season, Wisconsin went on a tear. From Kerdiles’ first series, against Denver on Nov. 30, until Jan. 19 against Miami (OH), the Badgers did not lose.
“I don't know if it's necessarily a certain moment in the game, but definitely that Denver series,” senior defenseman John Ramage said in a press conference about the team’s turning point this season. “I thought we went into Denver, got three points, which was huge for us. So I think that series I look at as kind of a turning point of our season.”
The freshman’s production helped to jump-start a stagnant UW offense, but he was not the only reason for the turnaround. Sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel settled in as the team’s starter, putting an end to the rotation with fellow sophomore Landon Peterson. Junior forward Mark Zengerle returned from a broken finger and began to put up numbers close to his team-leading pace from last season. Senior defenseman John Ramage rebounded from a poor junior season to help solidify the defensive corps.
An 11-game point streak (8-0-3) put Wisconsin back into the national rankings and back on the path towards a possible at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. Then Penn State happened.
A 3-2 overtime loss to the Nittany Lions on a Monday night in late February sent Wisconsin tumbling in the Pairwise, a ranking system that is used to mimic that of the NCAA selection committee.
The Badgers bounced back with a series sweep over Nebraska-Omaha, and after dropping the first game of their final series of the regular season against St. Cloud, have won six straight.
After a sweep of Minnesota-Duluth, a 7-2 win over Minnesota State, a 4-1 win over St. Cloud, a 3-2 win over Colorado College and a WCHA title, Wisconsin’s start to the season seems like just a bad dream—a distant memory.
On their current win streak, UW has scored 24 goals (4.0 goals per game) including a season-high seven in their game against Minnesota State. Going into that game, MSU coach Mike Hastings called Wisconsin "the toughest match-up in the country.” After the way it has played over the last month, it would be hard to argue with him.
That is why sports are so great—nothing is impossible. If you had thought for an instant back in November that this team would take home the Broadmoor trophy, there would be some who would refer you to the local sanitarium. But here we are.
“If we listened to the critics all the time, we wouldn't be where we're at right now,” Ramage said.
During the NCAA selection show Sunday night, ESPN analyst Barry Melrose said the Badgers were his pick to win the national title. Now the critics are gone and Wisconsin has become a national favorite. Let’s sit back and see if this team can surprise us one more time.
Do you think the Badgers can bring home the national title? What do you think of the team’s turnaround this season? Let Matt know what you think by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.