The Wisconsin men’s hockey coaching staff welcomed Andy Brandt to their ranks this offseason.
Brandt, a former Badger himself, joined the team with coaching experience at Saint Norbert College in Green Bay. While not head coaching the Green Knights, Brandt experienced success with the program – winning a Division III national championship in 2018 and returning to the NCAA tournament in 2019 and 2022. With this experience, could Brandt be slated as the next men’s hockey head coach in Madison?
Currently, the Badgers are coached by Tony Granato, who over the course of his tenure, starting in 2016, has a record of 92-106-16. During this time, Wisconsin only had two winning seasons and one appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2021 where the team lost in the first round.
The 2021 team featured one of Wisconsin’s most talented lineups in recent history – with names like Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway, both first round NHL draft picks. Yet, the team could not win when they needed to, losing the Big Ten Tournament championship to Minnesota and losing in the NCAA tournament to Bemidji State 10 days later.
Granato’s performance must be called into question. Wisconsin is one of seven schools with five or more national championships – the Badgers have six. Based on national championships alone, Wisconsin is a quality program. Given the Badgers’ rich history, there must be certain expectations for the program. Those expectations have not been met by Granato.
In Wisconsin’s Big Ten opening series versus Ohio State, the Badgers dropped both games – the second of which Wisconsin held a 3-0 lead over the No. 14 ranked Buckeyes. With a three goal lead, Wisconsin should have handily split the series, yet they allowed four unanswered goals to lose 4-3. Wisconsin’s coaching staff needs to figure out what adjustments need to be made to secure victories against strong opponents.
In previous years, adjustments have seemed to be few and far between for the Badgers. Last year, the Wisconsin offense struggled – scoring a mere 76 goals and converting on 17.8% of their power play opportunities. Regardless of the talent level, 17.8% is unacceptable and indicative of a refusal to make changes.
So far this season, Wisconsin converted on one of six power play opportunities – 16.7%. If there is not an increase in power play productivity, it falls to the Wisconsin coaches to make adjustments and find ways to score. If those adjustments are not made and the Badgers continue to struggle with the man advantage, it seems unlikely the Badgers will have any real success this year.
Brandt’s hiring could simply be to create a spark to reignite this Badger program, hopefully leading to future success. However, the hiring could be the beginning of the end for the Granato era. Brandt certainly fits the requisites for a Wisconsin coach.
There is a stereotypical description of a Wisconsin coach over recent years. Wisconsin historically hires coaches who have experience outside of Madison, seemingly to prove their abilities. A former Badger player is an added benefit in Wisconsin’s hiring criteria as well. This description traces back to Mike Eaves in 2002, a former Wisconsin player who coached away from Wisconsin before becoming head coach. Eaves followed this path, as has Tony Granato. Brandt, who also followed these steps, could be considered for the position should the university decide a change is necessary.
Brandt’s accolades and achievements speak to his capability. He won national championships as both a player and coach. He knows how to win. The questions remaining about his ability pertain to recruiting.
It remains to be seen whether Brandt can recruit at a Division I level, as his only experience has been at the Division III level. The time Brandt serves as an assistant coach with the Badgers could prove his recruiting ability.
While Brandt is one alternative option for the Badgers, another possibility is promoting current associate head coach Mark Osiecki. While his promotion is ultimately a possibility if the Badgers want change, Osiecki is likely not the man for the job. Having joined the Wisconsin staff along with Granato in 2016, he has lived in Granato’s shadow and may have adopted a similar coaching philosophy. Unfortunately for Osiecki, if he has aspirations of becoming the Badgers head coach, he would need to demonstrate his desire to make changes.
Regardless of the intent behind Brandt’s hiring this season, the pressure building on Granato to turn the program around has created speculation over how long he will keep the head coaching role. Public pressure on Granato to return to winning ways has been growing. Hopefully the Badgers are able to improve and return to their past ways under the leadership of this staff. However, it certainly seems within reason the university is preparing to make changes.
The Wisconsin men’s hockey Twitter page called Madison “America’s College Hockey Capital.” Based on recent results, it is hard to defend that claim. While a simple coaching adjustment may not be the only solution, it might be the start this program needs to get back to winning ways.