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.
In Wisconsin’s opening game of its first series against Minnesota, the Badgers dominated the Gophers for almost the entire game, outscoring them 4-1 over 49 minutes and 34 seconds of the 60 minute contest.
Hockey is vastly different than any other sport. It’s remarkably fast, uniquely physical and fiercely emotional.
Wisconsin and Michigan are both in full desperation mode. No. 18 Wisconsin (7-8-2-1 Big Ten, 13-12-3-0 Overall) will likely need to go around 4-2 over its last six games and have a pretty successful Big Ten Tournament run in order to make the postseason.
It wasn’t a win, but you couldn’t have told that from the reaction of Wisconsin’s bench as they streamed onto the ice. The emotional outpouring, from Jack Berry’s exuberant sliding fist pump to Peter Tischke’s elated hugs, wasn’t about the extra point in the conference standings that the Badgers had just earned as much as the expression of a team that has finally found its confidence after months of underperforming expectations.
For the majority of Wisconsin’s games this season, the story has been this: UW played well, but it still couldn’t win. With only a few series to go and No. 18 UW (7-8-2 Big Ten, 13-12-3 overall) sitting outside the top-16, close losses and moral victories are no longer enough for the Badgers. And while No. 14 Penn State (6-8-3-2, 13-11-3) led Wisconsin for the majority of the night, and the story of UW’s season looked like it was destined to repeat itself, the Badgers found a way to rewrite the script and come from behind in a thrilling 4-2 victory.
Just minutes after Wisconsin’s dominating — and emotional — 5-0 win over No. 1 Notre Dame at the United Center, the team’s attention had already turned from celebrating the biggest win of the season to looking for more success. “There’s so much belief in that locker room."
Chicago, Il — Wisconsin scored early, and they scored often. They scored at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill.
After splitting a home series against Michigan State last weekend, Wisconsin has found itself in a position where it needs positive results.
“I don’t think the work ethic was where it needed to be. They obviously wanted it more. It was on us."
No. 18 Wisconsin (4-7-2 Big Ten, 10-11-3 overall) vs. Michigan State (3-9-1-1, 9-13-1) Saturday, 7 p.m. Kohl Center.
The transition from high school or juniors to college hockey can be incredibly difficult, even for the most gifted players.