After two straight losing seasons and finishing last in the Big Ten in 2022-23, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team can only move up the Big Ten leaderboard in their 75th season under new head coach Mike Hastings.
Hastings joins the team from the Minnesota State Mavericks after former head coach and Badger alumnus Tony Granato got the axe after last year’s season.
The Badgers finished 13-23-0 last year, the fifth losing season in seven years under Granato. And with the 2021-22 Badgers finishing with the second-worst modern record in school history of 10-24-3, University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Director Chris McIntosh decided it was time for a change.
Offensive weapons old and new show hope for Badgers
The Badgers averaged a disappointing 2.6 goals per game last year, tied for 41st out of 60 NCAA Division I teams. They put up shot numbers fairly on par with the rest of the Big Ten teams but struggled to convert those opportunities into goals with a .081 shot percentage.
The Big Ten tournament champion Michigan Wolverines averaged 4.2 goals per game with a .120 shot percentage. The runner-up and longtime Badger rival Minnesota Golden Gophers similarly averaged 4.2 goals a game with a .130 shot percentage.
The Badgers head into this season with two of their three main offensive weapons from last season. Senior forward alternate captain Mathieu De St. Phalle led the roster last year with 13 goals and was second in assists with 17, falling behind only Cruz Lucius, who came first with 23 assists and tied for second in goals with Brock Caufield.
Caufield, on the other hand, played his last season with the Badgers after winning the Big Ten regular season title with his brother Cole back in 2021. After a blazing Badger career, Cole Caufield moved on in 2021 to the Montreal Canadiens, while Brock Caufield signed over the summer with Toronto Maple Leafs American Hockey League affiliate, the Toronto Marlies.
Lucius, who was a freshman last season, led the team with 34 points, followed closely by De St. Phalle with 30. Lucius’ performance last year will likely put him on Hasting’s radar as Hasting searches for a first line forward, and it’ll be interesting to see just how much responsibility the sophomore is assigned with a new coach at the helm.
Lucius and De St. Phalle will have potential competition for the coveted first line from three new acquisitions transferring alongside Hastings from Minnesota State, which will hope to boost the Badgers offensive stats from last year.
David Silye, who was recently named alternate captain alongside De St. Phalle, won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) Forward of the Year award last year and scored 39 points in 39 games for the Mavericks. With those numbers and a 62.2% faceoff win percentage, Silye could find his home as the first line center with the Badgers.
But, as Hastings pointed out after the transfer, Silye’s versatility could see him perform well at any of the forward positions.
"David Silye has continued to get better every year. His versatility as a player allows him to play all three forward positions and contribute in all areas of the game,” Hastings said in a press release. “He takes tremendous pride in being one of the best faceoff men in college hockey. He's a great teammate and leads by example.”
Christian Fitzgerald, also joining from Mavericks, scored 16 goals and contributed 29 points in 38 games, ranking second and third in the Mavericks lineup, respectively. Simon Tassy, the last of the three Minnesota state transfers, missed over half of the games last season due to injury.
Defensive improvement key for Badgers success this season
Defense will likely be the key focus as the team looks forward to this year's season. The Badgers defense allowed 3.5 goals per game last season, ranking as one of the worst team stats of all last season and placing them tied for 54th out of 60 in all of Division I men’s hockey.
Mike Vorlicky will lead the defense both on and off the ice, having been with the team since the 2019-20 season and receiving the honor of captaining the team this year. His several years of Big Ten experience will undoubtedly come in handy as the Badgers try to come away with a better season this year.
Some familiar names like seniors Sam Stange and Anthony Kehrer will be returning as well, but with three freshman and two sophomores on the defensive roster, Hastings will undoubtedly be looking for some new combinations to improve the less-than-stellar defensive performance from last year.
Kyle McClellan will likely be the starting goaltender for the Badgers this season, taking over the starting role from Jared Moe. Moe played his final season last year and will move on to AA hockey in the ECHL, signing with the Idaho Steelheads.
McClellan started eight games last season and will likely have a chance to prove himself as the starter this season. Also on the goaltending roster is Ben Garrity, who hasn’t seen action since the 2021-22 season. William Gramme, a freshman and Swedish native, joined the team from the North American Hockey League this year.
2022-23 schedule far from easy for Badgers
The Badgers will open up the season with a two-game home series against the CCHA Augustana Vikings of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The series and season will begin Saturday and will be the first ice hockey game in the history of Augustana University, a team playing its inaugural hockey season as part of the university’s move up to Division I sports.
The Badgers will then travel on a six-game away stretch against Bemidji State, the University of North Dakota and a two-game series at Michigan Tech before heading out to face the rival Gophers in Minnesota. None of the games will be a cakewalk for the Badgers, but they’re historically 6-1-1 against Bemidji, which should make it the most manageable game of the stretch.
The first few games against solid out-of-conference teams will set the season’s tone, and the two games against the Michigan Tech Huskies will be critically important as the Badgers look toward their first Big Ten games in Minnesota. The Badgers lost their last two-game series against the Huskies in 2021, so turning the series around this time could be a big boost before they head on to face Minnesota.
Starting in Minnesota, the Badgers will begin six straight Big Ten games — two against Minnesota, two against the Michigan Wolverines at home and then heading back on the road to face the Michigan State Spartans in East Lansing.
The Badgers will play four more Big Ten games before the New Year — Ohio State and Penn State — while the other 14 Big Ten matchups will be mostly back-to-back in 2024, apart from a two-game series against Lindenwood.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.