The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team beat No. 8 Ohio State in overtime at Madison Square Garden Saturday to climb into a first-place tie with Minnesota atop the Big Ten.
During Monday’s news conference, UW head coach Tony Granato admitted he was nervous when OSU (12-6-6) made a late push to drag the Badgers (13- 8-1, Big Ten) into overtime, but his team stood strong.
“[They] did an outstanding job of giving themselves the best chance to win every night by the preparation they put in,” Granato said.
As a top team in the Big Ten, Granato spoke about his team’s evolution of improvement — one that started long before the season did. The team’s eminent success is deeply rooted in the confidence each player prides has in himself, and in turn, each other.
“It’s really important for any team that’s going to win,” Granato said. “Got to feel good about yourself and feel good about the group of guys you are going out on the ice with … that’s the kind of group we have now.”
This year’s team innately embraces optimism, responsibility and leadership from within. The captains, trio of forwards junior Cameron Hughes, sophomore Luke Kunin and senior Grant Besse, are all leaders on and off the ice, but they also enable their teammates to make pivotal contributions.
Granato noted forwards Trent Frederick and Max Zimmer — who have now combined for 10 goals and 26 total points — are comfortable in conveying leadership qualities as freshmen too.
With a loaded schedule that has pummeled younger players into maturity quicker than most, the Badgers have embraced the challenge and transformed their opponents’ rankings into inspiration for the potential to dethrone them.
“One of the best things for us is that we got to watch the football team do it all year,” Granato said. “We learned from how they approached it … every weekend you got to step up and use it as a new opportunity. That’s what we’re using it as.”
After three consecutive wins over top 10 opponents, Wisconsin is both confident and prepared to keep making waves in the Big Ten standings.
“We’re using [the game] as an opportunity to see where we are and to show everyone else in hockey that we’ve got a pretty good team here and are ready for those challenges,” Granato said.
The Badgers still have several top 10 tests, with No. 6 Penn State around the corner. As for now, the Badgers eagerly await their next shot at extending their current upset streak to four against Michigan State in East Lansing this weekend.
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“I’m pretty confident in the steps we made with the group,” Granato said. “They look at you now and look at you in the eye and say ‘we got it.’”
Wisconsin performed well in its last meeting with MSU earlier this month when the Badgers swept the Spartans at home.
“We like where we are at, we like where we are going and we are going to have to prepare the same way we did for these other teams and be ready to battle,” Granato said.