The Wisconsin men’s hockey team may have defeated Lindenwood Friday night, but the victory itself is nothing to write home about. The win outlined fundamental flaws in this Wisconsin team.
A 4-3 victory may sound great on paper for a team with a struggling offense and a 4-8-0 record entering Friday, however, when that team registers 51 shots on goal to the opponent’s 13, something is wrong.
Wisconsin’s play style is unsustainable. Winning games by one goal against vastly inferior teams cannot be accepted. There were very few aspects to Friday’s game where Lindenwood could argue they were superior to Wisconsin. Yet, the Badgers just barely escaped with a win.
Wisconsin made the game more challenging than it needed to be. The Badgers have now scored on themselves two seasons in a row. Scoring an own goal in hockey is rare for a team to do once, let alone twice in a two year span. Wisconsin cannot allow these mental errors and simple mistakes to continue.
Wisconsin has also struggled to create opportunities on special teams. The power play has not improved over their opening 13 games. Wisconsin scored two power play goals against Lindenwood, but it is difficult to determine if this success stems from an improved power play lineup or Lindenwood being a weaker team. Lindenwood’s penalty kill operates at 73.1%. With that percentage, Lindenwood has one of the worst penalty kill units in the country. Even the worst power play units should have opportunities against them.
The Big Ten has six of seven teams ranked in the top 20 — only Wisconsin is excluded from that list. In preseason Big Ten rankings Wisconsin was expected to finish as the fourth best team. They currently sit last. This once storied program is a husk of what it used to be. What was once considered a hockey school is now a laughing stock.
The Badgers must begin making changes to stop this ship from sinking further than it already has. Unfortunately, the damage may be done already. Attendance at the Kohl Center for game one against Lindenwood, a game the Badgers should have won easily, was 5,550. For hockey games, the Kohl Center holds 15,359. In the 2005-2006 season, Wisconsin’s average attendance was 13,511 — 88% of the Kohl Center’s capacity.
Crowds have dwindled since Wisconsin’s last national championship winning season. Fans are tired of watching the Badgers lose or barely squeak out victories over far inferior teams. Without crowds, recruitment becomes a challenge. Imagine being a top recruit and you can choose between Wisconsin, a program incapable of filling their arena, or Big Ten rival Minnesota, who, on average, reach 81.1% of their arena's capacity. The choice seems clear.
This begs the question — what can Wisconsin do? The first step is to recognize their fundamental issues. The Badgers must make some serious adjustments. If the coaching staff is unable to adjust, it may be time to consider other options. Regardless of the coaches leading the Badgers, something must change.
Wisconsin continues to make the same mistakes game after game, series after series and expecting a different result. That philosophy is irrational. It has proven to be ineffective. The Badgers have played 13 games this season and the only noticeable changes are line combinations. Changing the lineup might help certain players produce, but when the system is flawed, personnel changes will not fix everything.
Until the Badgers can change, they will likely continue to play mediocre hockey and maybe squeak out some wins. In return, the fans will likely continue to leave and attendance will suffer — creating a pitiful environment that will have lasting repercussions on this program.