If you traveled back in time and told Badgers fans their men’s hockey team would be ranked No. 3 after just 10 games, most would’ve replied with sneering disbelief.
Yet, the No. 3 Badgers are going into their first week off with a 9-1-0 record. Their story reads like a standard phoenix-from-the-ashes narrative, especially after finishing last season with an abysmal 13-23-0 record.
But their start to this season doesn’t feel like we’ve watched a phoenix rise from that ash. It feels like this team entered this season as the mighty phoenix, and their performances have indicated precisely that.
Of course, give head coach Mike Hastings and his players credit in the offseason. It’s entirely possible this phoenix emerged then on the practice ice in LaBahn Arena, not for us to witness. Even if that’s the case, this team has been catching fire game after game, play after play.
Hastings is the most noticeable and most significant reason for this change. He’s been taken in by fans so quickly that images of him as Jesus Christ frequently circulate on Twitter.
His coaching philosophy has been clear, and he’s been unequivocal at press conferences with his goal for this team. After every game — regardless of whether it was a narrow or significant victory — Hastings’ primary focus has been to feel good about the win but move on to improving and building his players.
On top of an honest and fair view of strengths and weaknesses in games, Hastings is the real deal. If you’ve seen the “all-access” series on YouTube, it’s clear his attitude is why he’s been successful as a coach.
Hastings also brought with him three talented Minnesota State players. Simon Tassy, Christian Fitzgerald and David Silye are third, fourth and fifth in terms of points for the Badgers, respectively. To say they’ve fit into this team would be a massive understatement.
At a press conference after a 5-4 game one victory against the Michigan Wolverines, Tassy and Owen Lindmark, who joined the Badgers in 2019–20, seemed like they’d been friends for years on end. That camaraderie is an ever-present part of this team.
The thing to like most about the Badgers this year is that everyone is showing up. There have been consistent standouts like Mathieu De St. Phalle and Cruz Lucius. What’s more impressive, though, is that every player on the roster contributes.
The Badgers’ fourth forward line against Michigan — Tyson Dyck, Lindmark and Jack Horbach — played just as hard and contributed at least as much as any other line on the team. Lindmark, who tallied a couple of goals against Michigan, received the B1G Third Star of the Week Award for his play.
Kyle McClellan has been integral to the team’s success, putting up excellent performances between the pipes. We’ve seen standout performances from the younger players — Quinn Finley, William Whitelaw and Joe Palodichuk come to mind. That’s just to name a few — every player on the team has been a part of this team's success, regardless of whether they’ve come away with points or the stats to show it.
This team is good, but just like with every other team, how good they are now is equally important to how they’ll grow through the season. Getting through this initial bout of hard matchups has been a positive sign, but there’s no shortage of hardship ahead. How this team grows over the season and through those tough matchups — win or lose — will determine how good they’ll be heading into the Big Ten Tournament and maybe even the NCAA Tournament.
However, their current focus on improvement and the fact that it’s working — take the power play from early in the season to now as an example — demonstrates it’s okay for Badger fans to smile about this team and be optimistic.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.