Ten games into its 2012-13 campaign, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team never thought it would boast a 1-7-2 overall record.
Go back to Oct. 6, 2012. The Badgers dominated the U.S. under-18 team 5-0 and were feeling confident about what was ahead of them. They were already looking forward to playing hockey in April.
Seven weeks, an NCAA suspension, a broken finger and a new assistant coach later, all Wisconsin can recite is the need to turn around its season.
“It’s like turning a freight liner in the middle of the ocean,” head coach Mike Eaves said after Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Minnesota State. “You don’t turn it on a dime. You have to bring it around in a circle.”
According to Eaves & Co., that process has already begun. The Badgers downfall this season is largely due to an inability to score goals. UW is averaging only 1.8 goals per game this year, the lowest number in the WCHA and No. 53 nationally.
Prior to their latest sweep at home, the Badgers averaged 23.5 shots per game. Against Minnesota State, that average skyrocketed as Wisconsin peppered the goal with 69 shots on the weekend, averaging 34.5 shots a game.
While the team was puzzled after a flat outing in the first period of the series, it was more consistent Saturday and continued to create more scoring opportunities than it had in any other previous series.
“We had more guys playing a full 60 minutes than we did on Friday night,” senior forward Ryan Little said of Saturday’s consistent effort. “It obviously wasn’t good enough, but it was a start in the right direction.”
Coming into the season, Wisconsin was expected to have a fair amount of depth at forward with several seasoned players and the nation’s leading returning scorer — Mark Zengerle. With Zengerle out over the last four games with a broken left index finger and the loss of freshman forward Nic Kerdiles who came in with a high expectations, but was sidelined after an NCAA suspension for ineligibility issues, the Badgers feel they have lost a spark on offense.
And the lack of offensive firepower isn’t only reflected in the Badgers’ lack of goals, but also in their extremely poor conversion rates on the power play. Out of 32 instances with the man advantage, Wisconsin has only scored on four occasions, a rate of just 12.5 percent, second worst in the WCHA and 44th nationally.
As the power play suffers, the penalty kill has seen plenty of time on the ice and has generally stood up to the test. The Badgers are successful 77.5 percent of the time on the penalty kill, giving up only nine power play goals in 40 opportunities.
In addition to the penalty kill, the goaltending has also stood as one of the few bright spots for Wisconsin, according to Eaves.
“I think our goaltending has been solid,” Eaves said. “I like both our young kids that have played net. We haven’t helped them out with many goals so their record doesn’t look very good, but I think they’ve done a good job. I think for the most part we’ve tried to introduce a little bit something new for the guys in terms of the way we play. … We’ve had a lot of storms hit us right in the face here and our heads above water and we’re moving forward.”
Through 10 games, sophomores Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson have split tending net with seven and four games respectively (they split time in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to MSU).
While Rumpel has the win to his name, the two have only allowed a combined 28 goals — fourth fewest in the WCHA. Rumpel and Peterson each own a 90.9 percent and 92 percent save percentage, respectively. Peterson’s 2.42 goals against average places him as the fifth-best goalie in the conference, while Rumpel sits at 10th with a 2.66 goals against average.
Still, with only one win on the season, Little put it best: Wisconsin has nowhere to go but up.
With the turn beginning to take shape, the Badgers aren’t giving up any time soon. Facing early adversity isn’t a new concept for Wisconsin, especially in recent years. But now the team is striving to prove its season isn’t over.
“You can’t expect with this close of a group of guys, with what we’ve gone through, just to break apart that easy,” McCabe said. “We’ve got 26 guys right now. We’re all best buddies, we’re really close — this is the closest team I’ve been on — and we’re here every day. … There’s no one going anywhere.”
With everyone on board, UW is still maintaining a healthy perspective on not only its season, but also life and the game they love to play.
“I know I’m only a college student, but … stuff happens in life, you just have to keep going,” Little said. “I’m sure this isn’t the first or last adversity all of us have faced. We just have to keep fighting. It’s a long season. The good news is, we’d rather get this out of the way at the start of the season rather than it happen at the end.”
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