The Wisconsin men’s hockey team has a week to rest after a sweep against Michigan State this past weekend. A notable performance from Badger goaltender Joel Rumpel ended the series against the Spartans with a shutout, his ninth this season. The Big Ten’s Second Star of the Week behind teammate Michael Mersch, who was named First Star, Rumpel has proven himself to be a key player for the Badgers.
“We all play with a little more confidence, especially when you have that backstop back there,” defenseman and captain Frankie Simonelli said, regarding the team’s play due to Rumpel’s performance. “We emphasize team defense and having a strong goalie back there is really the foundation for a good team defense.”
The junior from Swift Current, Saskatchewan started as a freshman for the Badgers in 2011, winning his first career start in a 3-2 victory over Northern Michigan. Rumpel went on to set the UW freshman record and lead all freshmen goaltenders in the country with three shutouts during his freshman season. But that was just part of a solid debut year. Rumpel earned the WCHA Rookie of the Week honor three times and ended the season save percentage by eclipsing the .900 mark, something Rumpel has accomplished all three seasons he’s played with the Badgers.
Although Rumpel had two very solid seasons to start his career, he has capitalized on his strengths this season and improved his game across the board.
“What he brings to the table naturally is he’s a tall goaltender and he’s very athletic – he moves well. What he’s done coming into his junior year, he’s taken a quantum leap. He’s worked hard in accordance to the details of his position,” Badgers head coach Mike Eaves said.
After battling for the starting position early in the season against Landon Peterson, Rumpel has taken over as starting goaltender since coming back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for five games in the early part of the season.
Despite a slow start because of the injury, Rumpel has been strong as of late and leads the Big Ten in save percentage (.936), goals-against average (1.83) and winning percentage (.786). With a shutout in the second game against Michigan State, his nine career shutouts have earned him a three-way tie for second place in program history alongside Terry Kleisinger and Graham Melanson.
But despite the healthy statistics and accolades this season, the Canadian native didn’t address his status as leading goaltender in the Big Ten or his shutout against Michigan State. Instead, the team-oriented junior cited the team’s defense as a whole as the reason for the Badgers’ success.
The strong team defense has been aided by a strong chemistry between the players, who can be serious when they need to be and also joke around, as evidenced by the Canada-United States men’s hockey Olympic game from last Friday.
“There’s only three of us Canadians on the team. We watched the [Olympics] with the Americans, and there was some chirping going on, but the better team won in the end,” Rumpel said.
This camaraderie among teammates will help propel the Badgers into their final games before playoffs begin. As a team that has struggled while away, Rumpel seemed excited and ready for the next two away series.
“It will be a huge help for us. It will be good going into the playoffs and the Frozen Four, they’re all road games, so these games will hopefully give us a little more confidence and wins going into St. Paul,” he said.
Rumpel was humble, but confident about the team’s preparation for its upcoming series with Penn State.
“They’re a good team, they’ve played some unbelievable teams and done well against them,” he said of Penn State, who swept Michigan on the road this past weekend. “Big thing is: Can’t take them lightly – they can score and they have good defense and goaltending. This week we are working on our own things, but next week we will begin focusing on how to shut them down.”
Rumpel has proven a valuable teammate both on and off the ice, and he has started to come into his own this season between the pipes for the Badgers. In addition to leading the Big Ten goaltenders in save percentages, goals-against averages and winning percentages, his hard work and effort have earned him the status of Star of the Week three times this season for the Big Ten. His nine career shutouts have earned him a three-way tie for second place in program history. With the Big Ten Tournament and Frozen Four looming ahead, Rumpel will be a notable presence on the ice for Wisconsin.