And then there was one.

With now former assistant coach Mark Osiecki gone, only head coach Mike Eaves remains from the men’s hockey team coaching staff. Well, volunteer goaltending coach Jeff Sanger is still here, but if you want to measure his impact, just look back to the play of UW’s goalies this past season.

Just kidding, Jeff.

Osiecki was named head coach at Ohio State on Saturday after spending six years as an assistant at Wisconsin. UW’s other assistant, Kevin Patrick, announced in March he was leaving after the season to be head coach of a new United States Hockey League franchise.

The coaching departures are another blow to a team that loses seven seniors. That’s not even counting the likely departure of Hobey Baker top-10 finalist Brendan Smith to the pros. Chances are fellow defenseman Cody Goloubef could leave, and although Ryan McDonagh was named sole team captain for the 2010-2011 season, it’s not a guarantee he’s staying.

It would be a grave mistake to think the departure of Patrick and now Osiecki are small losses. It’s no discredit to Eaves, but Osiecki might have been the most important coach on the staff.

“Oz” was Wisconsin’s defensive whiteboard whiz, working with the team defense and penalty kill units. The combination of Osiecki’s coaching and the pure talent in the defensive corps made the Badgers’ defense arguably the deepest, most skilled group of blueliners in the nation this season.

UW slipped to 15th in the nation in team scoring defense after that April 10 debacle, but spent the better part of the year around the top 10 in that category and finished the season allowing an average of 2.58 goals per game.

The Badgers finished 11th in penalty killing, with a success rate of 84.9 percent. Although it’s hard to see it from the overall percentage, UW’s penalty kill unit was usually dominant, combining an aggressive forecheck with solid positioning and a thirst for blocking shots. It wasn’t uncommon for the Badgers to outshoot opponents while on the penalty kill, and the unit created five shorthanded goals over the course of the season.

But don’t take my word for it. Questions about the team’s penalty kill success usually included something along the lines of, “Oz does a great job getting the team prepared,” as part of the answer. Proof: asked about the penalty kill back on Nov. 3, 2009, Derek Stepan’s response was, “We’ve got a really good penalty kill, and with the help of Coach Oz and video, we can get the job done.” Even Eaves credited Osiecki with the success of the Badgers’ special teams.

The same went for any questions about blocking shots or the team’s defense in general. Goloubef’s response after the team’s home series against Minnesota on the topic of shot blocking was, “I think that’s a big thing that coach (Osiecki) stresses is blocking pucks. Every time we block them that’s a slight chance it could have went in our net.”

In addition to success at UW, Osiecki won a title with North Dakota as an assistant, coached the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and more recently, was an assistant for Team USA’s gold medal-winning squad at the 2010 World Junior Championship.

With the aforementioned seven seniors — who were all forwards — leaving, defense will likely need to be a strength for the Badgers come next season. And while Osiecki’s coaching will clearly be missed, it’s the loss of him as a recruiter that could have an even bigger impact.

Oz was the recruiting coordinator at UW, and defensemen would come to Madison just as much for Osiecki as for anything else. A former title-winning defenseman with the Badgers in the late ’80s, the Burnsville, Minn. native built his reputation on blocking shots and playing hard-nosed defense.

Partially as a result of Osiecki’s recruiting, Wisconsin rode a defensive corps comprised of five first- or second-round draft picks to the national title game. The lone blueliner who wasn’t drafted, freshman John Ramage, will change that this summer, as he’ll likely be a fifth-round pick or so. Part of that was his performance for the U.S. at the WJC, where his inclusion on the team was criticized initially. Osiecki campaigned hard for Ramage to make the team, putting his own reputation on the line by supporting one of his own players. Ramage responded by not taking a single penalty in the tournament and tallying three assists — including John Carlson’s game-winning goal in the title game.

This would usually be the space where I suggest potential coaching hires now that there are two vacancies on the staff. But I’m not in any position to speculate on who will eventually replace Osiecki and Patrick — a lack of time and experience in the world of college hockey coaching is one of the deficiencies you face when you’re a student journalist.

While I don’t know who will step into the void left by Eaves’ assistants, I hope I’ve made it clear that there will be a void and it will be a big one. The Badgers will be set behind the bench offensively with UW’s career points leader in Eaves, but finding someone to steady the Badgers when they’re in their own zone could be a daunting task.

With guys like Stepan and Craig Smith returning, as well as the prospect of McDonagh finishing out his UW career, Wisconsin has enough talent to conceivably fight for another Frozen Four berth next season. But as much as any deficiencies in the 2010-2011 squad will be blamed on the departures of the class of 2010, it might be the adjustments behind the bench that become the biggest factor in the Badgers’ success or failure.

Adam is a junior majoring in journalism. Agree that UW’s assistant coaching vacancies are now the team’s biggest question marks? Email him at [email protected]