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Friday, February 23, 2024
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The Bird’s Chirp: Managing expectations amid glimpses of greatness

The Badgers have turned around in an offseason and consistently rank in the top 10, but fans' expectations are even higher.

“Boyle is trying to get it into the middle: 3, 2, 1, shot, saved! Wisconsin wins!”

Any Badger fan old enough to have watched the national championship in 2006 remembers the images and feelings that coincided with that broadcast call. A championship down to the wire as the Badgers took down Boston College 2-1.

It’s no secret this year’s team has shown glimpses of those 1983, 1990 and 2006 national championship-winning teams. It’s too tempting to let those feelings and emotions flood back in and wonder if 2024 might join that list.

The Badgers’ men's hockey team has set the bar high for themselves. They’ve beaten decades-old records, and Kyle McClellan is putting on a masterclass in the net behind a solid defensive front.

Still, as every column I’ll ever write — and coaches and players — will tell you, hockey is often a game of bounces and pure luck. 

Part of being a hockey beat reporter means walking around after games, trying to understand how the fans feel about their team. You quickly learn fans are like “football parents” — both their team's most adamant supporters and harshest critics. 

There have been disappointing moments for some fans, but they’re forgetting where this team is and where it’s coming from.

When Michigan defeated Wisconsin 5-1 in game one of a series, fans groveled both in conversations I heard at games and online at how the Badgers should be “better than that.” They were “overrated” and not going to go far in the postseason, critics said. 

I heard from others who said the game was a one-off and believed Wisconsin would turn it around, which they promptly did with a 6-5 overtime win a day later.

Similarly, some perturbed fans doubted the team's playoff future when the Badgers lost an overtime heartbreaker to the Golden Gophers Friday.

Here’s my plea to those fans: Have patience, have faith and keep the energy high at games.

This team has thrived off fan energy in the Kohl Center. You’ll hear the players and head coach Mike Hastings say again and again the fans are a critical part of the team.

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The Badgers sold out the Kohl Center Saturday for the first time since 2019. That makes a huge difference in the building.

At the end of the day, this team is learning in every win, loss and tie. I’m not excusing their less-than-stellar days and performances. That’s all part of the learning process. However, if you stick with them and keep showing up at the Kohl Center in droves, good things will happen.

It could be this year. It could just as well not be. That’s how unforgiving this sport is. But give them the support they need to grow and improve, and the question “Is this their year?” may just become the norm, season in and season out.

The Bird’s Chirp is The Daily Cardinal’s hockey column. Ian Wilder is the Cardinal’s hockey beat writer for the Badger men’s hockey team. How do you feel about this team’s commitment to learning? Send all comments to ian.wilder@dailycardinal.com

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Ian Wilder

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.

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