Wisconsin is a “jersey” program in college hockey. The Badgers should get top recruits and win with them because of its brand’s heritage. When NHL stars like Joe Pavelski, Ryan McDonagh, Dany Heatley, and Phil Kessel wore the Wisconsin jersey, younger players would want to make a stop in Madison as the key step toward matriculating to the pros.
But recently, that tradition of excellence hasn’t translated to wins. The Badgers have missed the NCAA tournament in five out of the last eight years and have won a mere 12 games in the previous two seasons combined. Due to losses and ticket sales dropping 52 percent since Wisconsin’s 2006 national championship, Director of Athletics Barry Alvares canned longtime head coach Mike Eaves. As a replacement, he went to a name from the NHL: former Badgers star Tony Granato. Alvarez wanted him bad enough that Granato is finishing his degree during his first year on the job as part of the agreement.
Granato clearly has a lot on his plate this year, but his team should still be better than last year’s. Wisconsin returns eight of its top 10 scorers, including top scorer sophomore Luke Kunin, whom the Minnesota Wild grabbed with the 15th overall pick of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. In total, Wisconsin has eight NHL draftees, including freshman Trent Frederic, who was also drafted this past June, in the first round by the Boston Bruins.
At minimum, Granato’s mission is to give Badgers fans a reason to come back to the Kohl Center. Per The New York Times, Wisconsin led the country in attendance 38 out of 43 years through 2012. Last season, the arena was less than half-filled.
“I want to be on the attack,” said Granato, who was last an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings. “We want the energy back in the building.”
The Badgers outshot Northern Michigan in both of their games last weekend, so that’s a start. They went 1-1 and now host Boston College men’s hockey at the Kohl Center on Friday and Sunday. The Eagles and Badgers faced off once last season—a 6-0 demolition at Kelley Rink, in which BC’s current big three of Colin White, Austin Cangelosi, and Ryan Fitzgerald scored five of the six goals. Here are some keys to the series:
Take fewer penalties: BC took too many penalties last year, but the team was so good that it often didn’t matter. Especially at the beginning of this season, with so many newcomers and veterans in expanded roles, the Eagles’ margin for error isn’t that wide anymore. Still, BC took eight penalties in each of its two games last weekend. That’s not a sustainable formula for success.
Tilt the Ice: Freshman Joe Woll stopped 64 out of the 67 shots he faced last weekend, which included an incredible 40-save performance during BC’s upset of No. 3 Denver. Woll may be good, but he won’t keep up a .955 save percentage, because no goalie can do that. In that Denver game, the Pioneers nearly doubled up BC’s shot total, too, so the Eagles will have to possess the puck much more to come away with a sweep in Madison.
More from the Big Three: It’s just two games, but Cangelosi was the only one of the top unit of him, Fitzgerald, and White to get on the board last week. Cangelosi carried more than his weight by piling up three goals, but Fitzgerald and White will probably need to dial it up this weekend if Woll can’t maintain his sky-high save percentage this weekend.
Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Staff