For the second time in two games, Wisconsin jumped out to a big lead early in the second period, before letting its opponent roar back into the game. And for the second time in two games, the Badgers clamped down defensively in the final period and got some clutch scoring to turn a would-be nailbiter into an ultimately comfortable win.
In the two-plus seasons since head coach Tony Granato took the program’s reins, Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team has been defined as much by the depth of its lows as by the height of its highs. The Badgers have claimed a win over the country’s top team and suffered an embarrassing home loss against one of the worst. Last season, they were the only team in the Big Ten to beat all six of the conference’s other teams, but also suffered a loss against all six as well.
“The great teams are the teams that when the game is on the line, you figure out how to turn it into a W,” head coach Tony Granato had said the night before. It wasn’t always pretty, it didn’t always look likely, but in the end Wisconsin came away with a win for the first time in six games, and did so in dramatic, roller-coaster fashion.
Officially, it’ll go down as a tie. The unranked Wisconsin Badgers (1-3-3 Big Ten, 5-7-3 overall) matched up against the No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions (2-2-1, 10-3-1) Friday night, and after three periods and an overtime session the official score ended in a 3-3 tie.
According to the official record, Saturday night’s game winner came 10 minutes and 20 seconds into the third period, when sophomore defenseman Josh Ess ripped a shot from the left point over Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn’s shoulder to put Wisconsin up 2-1. Ess’s shot was nearly perfect, and it did provide the the winning margin, but the real game-changing moment came 40 minutes earlier, when the Badgers bounced back from an early goal on a five-minute penalty kill and locked down the Minnesota offense.
Everything was going well for the Badgers. Until it went really, really bad. The No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers (0-1-0 Big Ten, 4-5-0 overall) were cruising, up two goals to none on the No. 16 Minnesota Golden Gophers (1-0-0, 2-4-0) midway through the second period when all hell broke loose on the ice.
Wisconsin’s opening-night shutout win over then No. 10 Boston College caught the attention of the college hockey community and signalled that the Badgers had the talent to exceed expectations in 2018-’19. But given the program’s recent history, what they did the next night seemed even more significant.
In December 2011, Tony Granato received a phone call. An old friend from college had gotten a new job and was moving into town, and Granato was supposed to help him find a place to live. It was a normal story, except for a few details; Granato was an assistant coach for the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins and his old friend was Paul Chryst, who had just been named the newest head football coach at Pittsburgh.
The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0-0 Big Ten, 4-4-0 overall) dropped both games of their weekend set to the No. 14 North Dakota Fighting Hawks (0-0-0 NCHC, 4-2-1 overall). Friday’s contest ended in a 5-0 blowout in favor of the Fighting Hawks, and Saturday night’s contest ended just seconds into overtime as Jacob Bernard-Docker found the back of the net for North Dakota, giving it a 3-2 win.
Five-on-five, Wisconsin played well enough. It battled for loose pucks, tracked back to shut down odd-man rushes and got traffic in front of the net to disrupt the opposing goaltender’s eyes and rhythm. The Badgers allowed a goal, but they scored one, too. It wasn’t a stellar performance, but it was good enough to have a chance at a win.
By numbers alone, Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team was always going to be reliant on its underclassmen this year.
As a freshman, it took Sean Dhooghe 22 games and three months to score four goals for the UW men's hockey team. On the first road trip of his sophomore year, it took him just five and a half periods.
Nearly two years ago to the day, head coach Tony Granato made his home coaching debut against a top-10 Boston College team and left with a statement win. The same script played out again Friday night as an unranked Badger squad (0-0-0 Big Ten, 1-0-0 overall) welcomed the No. 10 Eagles (0-0-0 Hockey East, 0-1-0 overall) to the Kohl Center and captured a 3-0 upset.
When head coach Tony Granato took over the Wisconsin men’s hockey program in the spring of 2016, he was agreeing to take stewardship not just of a team, but of an entire culture.
For the first time since the 2013-’14 season, the Wisconsin Badgers had legitimate NCAA Tournament expectations heading into their season.
Leading up to its first round series against Michigan, the Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team emphasized the importance of treating the Big Ten Tournament as a new season.
“We don't want to think about what’s happened in the past. It’s a clean slate.” As sophomore forward Max Zimmer alluded to earlier this week, Friday marks the start of essentially a new season for Wisconsin.
With an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament out of the picture, and little chance of capturing home-ice advantage for the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team entered Columbus for its final series of the regular season looking to recapture some momentum after a deflating home finale. After a pair of four-goal beatdowns at the hands of No. 6 Ohio State (14-8-2 Big Ten, 21-8-5 overall), the Badgers (14-17-4, 8-13-3) have acquired plenty of momentum — that of a stone dropped from a cliff, rather than a team surging into the postseason. Wisconsin started the weekend off strong, and took it to the heavily-favored Buckeyes for the first 40 minutes of Friday’s game.
Friday nights haven’t been kind to Wisconsin this year — the Badgers have dropped numerous series openers in disappointing fashion — but just about every time they’ve bounced back with a strong performance the following night.
Sometimes good just isn’t good enough. By just about any measure, Wisconsin (8-10-3 Big Ten, 14-14-4 overall) played well Friday night against Minnesota (8-10-1, 17-13-1). The Badgers skated well, controlled play for extended stretches, crashed the net and got a strong performance from senior goaltender Kyle Hayton.