With recent surprise losses to 1-12-1 St. Lawrence, a Michigan State team that is 1-4-1 in the Big Ten, and 5-5-2 Mercyhurst, the Badgers have dropped from No. 5 in the nation to No. 14 and could easily be feeling the pressure of an upcoming weekend trip to No. 7 Minnesota (3-4-1 Big Ten, 9-6-1 overall).
Despite its recent losses — dropping from a championship contender to a fringe tournament team and traveling to a challenging atmosphere to play a difficult opponent — Wisconsin (3-2-1-0, 9-6-2-0) is not letting the pressure get to them.
Of course, being competitors, there is always a bit of stress or pressure going into any matchup. But once a team settles in, the pressure seemingly dissolves.
“I think that first shift you get a little bit of butterflies,” said senior defenseman Jake Linhart. “But after that, the game just kind of comes every day like it is in practice and then it gets easier.”
“All theses teams are new so I don’t really know how they play, their style, how they are,” added freshman Jason Dhooghe. “So Friday nights are usually a little bit more on edge, but once Saturday hits, it’s better. It’s fun.”
Their initial nerves, though, do not stem from recent struggles.
“I don’t think it’s really more pressure [with our losses],” Linhart said. “I think we really just try to focus on during the week those things that we did wrong in the first game to lose that game. If we can apply that to both games next weekend I think we’ll be fine.”
“I wouldn’t say extra pressure [after the losses],” junior forward Will Johnson said. “I mean I think we want to go in each week with the idea that we want to win both games. Losing to those teams isn’t something we planned on, and I think it puts more emphasis on what we need to do each game, but I think we just want to take it game by game. Don’t think to hard about it — just go in there and play our game.”
Similarly, Wisconsin’s movement in the rankings isn’t creating overwhelming nerves either.
“It doesn't put more pressure on it,” Dhooghe said. “I mean, yeah, we dropped down a little bit, but every single weekend counts the same so we just have to continue to play well and keep getting better each weekend and get as many points and wins as we can.”
The Badgers do recognize, however, that being towards the top of the polls creates a different mentality. Still, the pressure of being at the top doesn’t outweigh the fun elicited from success.
“There is a bit of added pressure when you’re the one being hunted rather than being the hunter,” Johnson said. “But when I first came here I think we were ranked like 42 or something, so I think it’s a little different mentality being on top rather than climbing. When you’re on top, every game is an opportunity to drop. When you’re down, you are expected to lose in the first place. So there’s definitely a different mentality that goes into it, but it’s still the same. We want to go in and win, so there shouldn't be anything different no matter where you are. There’s definitely a correlation though between the fun you’re having and how well you’re playing.”
Essentially, the losses and the rankings aren’t the focus for UW. There isn’t any extra pressure for the Badgers right now. Wisconsin is just excited to go play a top team and a rival.
“To be honest it’s probably even more fun with those games. I mean, when you go into Minnesota and you have fans and their student section has blown up Instagram pictures of you and knows things about you, I think it’s kind of fun,” Johnson said. “It’s a really fun atmosphere when you have these rivalries, and once we get into the Big Ten games when you’re playing these tough teams, it only makes it more fun because it’s way heavier of a spotlight on you.”
Despite the long season, the strenuous hours and the expectation to succeed, hockey is still fun for Wisconsin. And this weekend should be no different.
“It’s still fun,” Linhart said. “Hockey’s always fun.”