As the weather gets colder, it brings with it a new hockey season. The Wisconsin Badgers will look to improve upon last season which saw them finish fifth in the Big Ten with a conference record of 6-17-1 and an overall record of 10-24-3. The Badgers will also look to defend their Kwik Trip Holiday Face-Off championship, a highlight of their season as they won the two day tournament in a shootout against Providence last year.
The Badger Men’s hockey team features some exciting new members – including freshman Charlie Stramel of Rosemount, Minnesota. Stramel previously played for the United States National Team Development Program (NTDP) where he scored eight goals and eight assists in 18 games with the U-18 team, as well as an additional 13 goals and 15 assists with the U-17 team. Stramel is predicted to be a future first round NHL Draft pick.
Another NTDP alum is freshman Cruz Lucius. Lucius, a Grant, Minnesota native, scored nine goals and nine assists in 23 games, enough to secure himself a fourth round NHL draft selection.
Joining Lucius as an NHL draft selection is Kelowna, British Columbia native Tyson Jugnauth. Jugnauth joins the Badgers from the West Kelowna Warriors of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) where he was awarded top defenseman and first team all-star honors. Jugnauth scored nine goals and a remarkable 41 assists in the 2021-22 campaign.
The Badger bench also welcomes former Badger Andy Brandt back to Madison as an assistant coach. Brandt previously coached at Saint Norbert College where he helped the Green Knights secure the 2018 NCAA Division III National Championship. Brandt also played for the 2006 men’s team which won the NCAA National Championship.
Three Badgers return for their fifth season in the Wisconsin sweater. These players are Jack Gorniak, Brock Caufield and Dominick Mersch. Gorniak, Caufield and Mersch combined for 17 goals and 27 assists last season. These players will need to serve as leaders while maintaining their productivity to spark the new additions to the team.
Adding to the Badgers NHL talent is junior Sam Stange. Stange was drafted in the fourth round of the NHL Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. Last season Stange recorded four goals and seven assists. This season Stange should contribute more to the Wisconsin offense as he tries to prove his potential to the Red Wings.
Wisconsin also retains goaltender Jared Moe. Moe, a transfer from Minnesota, maintained a 2.87 goals against average last season and made 894 saves. Moe will look to continue being a confident presence in the goal while hoping for more offensive support this season.
Badger head coach Tony Granato returns for his sixth season at the helm of the Badger team. Granato, a former United States Olympic coach, will try to return the Badgers to their 2020-21 Big Ten title-winning form. The new recruits joining the Badgers should provide new opportunities for the Badger coach to hopefully create an exciting atmosphere this year.
Keys to Success
If the Badgers are going to improve upon last year’s abysmal season, they must find a way to create offense. Last season, the Badgers scored 76 goals, tied for last in the Big Ten. The new additions to the team should bring an element of creativity to the Badger offense – especially upon offensive zone entry.
Another key to Badger success this season is playing a style that fits the team. Last year, the Badgers’ struggle to find an identity hindered their efficiency and potential. It will fall on Granato to find his players’ niches and create a system that embraces their talents.
For this Wisconsin team, improvement is imperative. While a return to the Big Ten championship seems unlikely, a push toward a .500 record would be a good benchmark for progress. With numerous NHL draft picks, and likely a first round choice, the Badgers have the talent to compete in the Big Ten. If the freshmen are able to make immediate contributions, the Badgers may showcase this potential early in the season. However, it will take time to adjust to the NCAA standard of play before the Badgers can be properly judged.
The Badgers begin their season at the Kohl Center on Oct. 2 against Lakehead before traveling to Ohio State for their Big Ten opener on Oct. 7.