After a weekend where Wisconsin showed they could skate with a top opponent in Michigan, they followed with a weekend that can only be described as embarrassing. Playing against conference opponents is motivating enough, but when the conference opponent is archrival Minnesota, the Badgers’ weekend performance becomes unacceptable.
The Badgers were outscored over the course of two games 13-5. In the past four games in Minneapolis, the Badgers have been outclassed by the Gophers 26-5. If Wisconsin does not make some changes soon, the series will remain firmly in Minnesota’s favor.
The Badgers have displayed a plethora of worrying tendencies all season. This series amplified all of them.
The team simply failed to compete with a strong opponent. Only when it appeared Minnesota eased off the throttle did it seem like Wisconsin had any chance. The Badgers came out remarkably flat on Friday night, which allowed Minnesota to jump out to an early 2-0 lead.
Following a series split with Michigan, the poor start is even more inexcusable. Putting up a fight against a worthy opponent should have given the Badgers some momentum or confidence. They had neither.
Adding to Wisconsin’s critical problems, they lack discipline and, perhaps more importantly, composure. On Saturday the script was flipped and Wisconsin pounced on Minnesota’s lackluster start, securing a 2-0 lead for themselves.
Then, Charlie Stramel was assessed a five minute and game misconduct penalty for headbutting.
The Badgers proceeded to concede six straight goals. The collapse effectively ended any hope of splitting the series with the Gophers. Despite two goals in the third period, the damage was already done.
While the call against Stramel was controversial, frustrating referee decisions affect every team and ultimately cannot be a reason for the Badgers to lose their composure. Giving up six straight goals shows a clear lack of composure and mental toughness — two recipes for success.
Complaining about a call won’t help either. The best way to respond to a bad call is to move on and play that much harder. The Badgers didn’t do that. They were the proverbial bug instead of the windshield after the call and Minnesota capitalized, continuously.
The Minnesota catastrophe should be triggering all alarms in Wisconsin Athletic Director Chris McIntosh’s office. There are fundamental flaws in the men’s hockey program right now, and they are manifesting themselves in underperforming season after underperforming season.
McIntosh currently faces a decision that will leave a lasting mark on this program. He can either keep things as they are and watch as fans grow more and more distraught with the state of play, or he can make changes within the program that could lead towards a new, more successful direction.
McIntosh is limited to these choices based upon program performance and fan attitudes. Look no further than replies to the Wisconsin men's hockey Twitter page posting final scores from the weekend to see what fans think of the program in its current state.
If McIntosh is serious about taking meaningful action, he needs to reevaluate Tony Granato’s role in the program. Granato has proven his inability to develop players and craft successful teams.
His status as a coach has been artificially amplified by the 2020-21 season where the Badgers made the NCAA tournament and Granato won the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award. The 2020-21 season, while the best Wisconsin has had in years, was still underwhelming. The Badgers roster that year was loaded with NHL talent, including Cole Caufield, who currently leads the Montreal Canadiens in goals.
With a team as talented as Wisconsin, a national championship was not unreasonable. The Badgers didn’t even win the Big Ten tournament. They were subsequently defeated in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Bemidji State.
Beyond seasonal results, player development has suffered under Granato. This season, Charlie Stramel joined the Badgers touted as a first round NHL prospect. He was projected to go in the top 15 draft picks, and recent rankings have dropped him anywhere from 19-30. While these are still excellent positions, they reflect a development problem.
Beyond Stramel, Wisconsin has other NHL draft picks like Sam Stange, Jack Gorniak and Carson Bantle. They have yet to show their NHL potential in Madison.
If Granato cannot develop players, why would recruits want to play for him?
McIntosh has shown he is willing to make midseason adjustments. As the hockey team enters winter break, the Holiday Faceoff tournament would provide a new regime a chance to start building prior to a return to Big Ten games. It may be McIntosh’s best option.