The Badgers opened the 2023-24 season with a 5-1-0 record, one of their best starts this century.
The Badgers are now recognized as one of the more threatening teams in the nation, coming in at No. 14 in Monday’s NCAA poll. How does a team go from one of their worst seasons last year to playing hockey at such a high level? More importantly, how do they keep playing at this level?
There are a couple of reasons why we’re seeing this performance from the Badgers and a couple of ways to keep it going.
New additions and young talent have been one of those elements, adding some of the spark that the Badgers lacked in past seasons.
Out of the top eight point leaders on the team, three are sophomores and two are freshmen. All three Minnesota State transfers — David Silye, Christian Fitzgerald and Simon Tassy — make the list, ranking second and tied for third, respectively.
The other names on the list are precisely who you’d expect — alternate captain Mathieu De St. Phalle ranking first with seven points, Cruz Lucius ranking third alongside four other players with three points.
Their combined talent has undoubtedly played a role in the team's success.
The team has done outstanding on the penalty kill so far this season, killing 25 out of 29 opponent’s penalties so far. Considering the Badgers gave up three goals on power plays this weekend against Michigan Tech, their kill percentage in the games preceding looks even better.
However, their commitment to adaptability and improvement sets this team apart. That mindset will threaten even No. 1 Minnesota on Thursday and Friday and the rest of their opponents this season.
So many elements of this team have looked better as the season progresses. Out of every game that’s gone by, the Badgers have taken something away from and learned from it.
The power play was abysmal against Augustana, and the Badgers played recklessly and gave up far too many penalties of their own.
The power play has looked collectively stronger since, even if the conversion percentage may not reflect that. If they play on the power play as they did against Michigan Tech this weekend, they will be much stronger and see significant improvement from last season.
Likewise, the Badgers have cleaned up their game and have not given up nearly as many senseless penalties as they did against Augustana.
They’ve started picking up on their shortcomings as games have passed, like giving opponents too many opportunities in the slot and shutting issues down before they become a systematic problem.
Conversely, they’ve been more careful before shooting on net and have shown resilience and patience in creating offensive opportunities.
Apart from the short-term benefits of improving the issues already apparent, the Badgers’ growth mindset makes them dangerous in the long run.
Even if Wisconsin loses the series against Minnesota this week, they’ll come out of that matchup stronger than before.
It’s too early in the season to make definitive statements about whether this mindset is permanent or even how it’s been described here. But if this mindset continues, this Badgers team is a genuine contender for a Big Ten regular season or tournament championship.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.