They might still need a little help, but the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team wraps up their regular season this weekend in East Lansing with the opportunity to head home as Big Ten Champions.
The Big Ten regular season title is decided by winning percentage in conference games. Wisconsin is guaranteed at least a second place finish in the conference and can grab the trophy if Minnesota loses at least one of their games against Michigan. Both teams are very good this season, so anything can happen in that series.
If Wisconsin can capture the title this weekend, it would be the first in almost twenty years. Wisconsin has historically struggled to win conference titles as it has only three in school history, coming in 1977, 1990 and 2000.
No matter what, Wisconsin has had one heck of a year, likely motivated by a season preview where a certain dull-witted Daily Cardinal writer (me) had predicted that Tony Granato was on the hot seat and could be moved on from after a lack of early success in his tenure as head coach.
Wisconsin’s success this season has been propelled by the success of their scorers as well as the stout defensive play by their goalies. When a team is good at scoring goals as well as good at stopping goals being scored on them, that generally leads to a successful season.
The enormous scoring output that the Badgers have had this season has been propelled by three players: Cole Caufield, Dylan Holloway and Linus Weissbach. All three players lead the conference in scoring at first, second and third, respectively. Holloway and Weissbach are also third and fourth respectively in the nation in points scored, and Caufield again takes the top spot.
Sophomore Dylan Holloway was named the NHCA Player of the Month for February after posting 17 points in eight games –– the most in the country –– matching his season total from last season in just one month.
Wisconsin as a team is first in the conference and the nation in scoring, with a total of 269 points at a 10.35 points per game clip. The area where the team has had so much success is in the power play, where Wisconsin is scoring a terrific 2.88 points per game.
Defensively, the Badgers are one of the most stout teams in the conference led by the terrific duo at goalie in graduate transfer Robbie Beydoun and true freshman Cameron Rowe. Rowe has been exquisite this season, second in the conference to only Minnesota’s Jack LaFontaine in save percentage. Beydoun has been a little less good, but is still terrific with a .914 save percentage.
Cole Caufield received Big Ten First Star of the Week honors for the second time this season following a hat trick performance and five-point weekend (three goals, two assists) against Ohio State. A Badger has been named Big Ten First Star of the Week in four of the past five weeks. Ty Pelton-Byce received the honor the previous week, preceded by Dylan Holloway and Cole Caufield.
Looking ahead to this weekend, Wisconsin is expected to handle Michigan State with relative ease as the Badgers beat the Spartans by a combined 10-1 margin over the two-game series. It cannot be overstated the amount of success that the Wisconsin Badgers have had over the previous two months of the season. Wisconsin will likely have three finalists for the Hobey, the hockey equivalent of the Heisman or Naismith, with Caufield, Holloway, and Weissbach all near the top of the country statistically.
Saturday's game begins at 1:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network, where the Badgers could be crowned as Big Ten Champions and be heading back to Madison with a little bit of bling to fill their trophy cases.