When the University of Wisconsin hauled in a new coaching staff during the offseason — consisting of head coach Tony Granato and associate head coaches Don Granato and Mark Osiecki — many around the program were expecting a turnaround, though few expected it to come so quickly.
Before the season, the Badgers (20-15-1) were picked to finish second to last in the Big Ten, only ahead of Michigan State. While the Spartans stayed true to the projections and finished in last place, Wisconsin far exceeded its expectations, finishing second in the Big Ten and missing out on a Big Ten tournament title and NCAA tournament bid by 1 goal.
Wisconsin’s season ended March 18 with a 2-1 double overtime loss to Penn State. The Badgers outshot the Nittany Lions 53-35 over the four periods, but ultimately Liam Folkes ended the game with a breakaway goal 6 minutes and 43 seconds into the second overtime, his second goal of the contest.
Men’s hockey: Dynamic duo Frederic and Kunin lead prolific offense, fuel Badgers’ resurgenceThe University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team undeniably exceeded expectations this season, finishing second in the Big Ten thanks to Read…
Though the Badgers ultimately fell short of the NCAA tournament, the team was successful in so many other ways.
After going 12-45-13 over the past two seasons, the new coaching staff was able to help UW correct course with a new look and fresh talent, helping the Badgers eclipse 20 wins for the first time since the 2013-14 season.
“I guess they call it the ‘Granato Era’ or something like that,” standout freshman Trent Frederic said. “It’s kinda just getting started, and you see how successful we already are, so it’s pretty sweet.”
Granato was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, making him only the second UW coach to own that title, with Hall of Famer Bob Johnson being the other.
Granato still insists it’s the players who deserve the credit.
“There was too much attention on the coaches,” Granato said. “I thought the players were a phenomenal group to coach. I thought they were a talented team that played a ton of great hockey.”
The Badgers showed their talent as they ranked 10th best in the nation in goals per game (3.39) and ninth and 14th best in the power-play (21.47 percent) and penalty-kill efficiency (84.5 percent).
On top of Granato’s Coach of the Year award, Wisconsin also had six players honored by the Big Ten conference.
Frederic won the Freshman of the Year award, the first Badger to do so since Dany Heatley in 1999-2000. He was also the only unanimous selection to the all-freshman team.
Frederic was also named to the All-Big Ten second team, alongside sophomore captain Luke Kunin and junior defenseman Jake Linhart, while sophomore defenseman Peter Tischke and freshman goalie Jack Berry earned All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades.
Senior forward Aidan Cavallini was honored as UW’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award winner.
Despite missing out on the NCAA tournament, UW’s program has taken undeniable strides toward the success that is historically synonymous with Wisconsin hockey.
Men’s hockey: Wisconsin headed to semifinals in Big Ten TournamentThe University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team successfully secured a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and will face the quarterfinals Read…
“We took a great jump,” Kunin said. “We put Wisconsin hockey back on the map where it should be. We even feel like it should be higher than we are right now. I think it was a great turn in the right direction for our program.”
Though the Badgers will lose Grant Besse, Jedd Soleway, Cavallini and Corbin McGuire to graduation and Kunin to the pros, Granato remains confident with the course they’re on.
“Yeah, we’re in good shape with who we’ve got coming in next year,” Granato said, when asked about replenishing talent. “And I think the biggest thing for us this year was to lay the foundation down on how we wanted to play, and the kids who were here gave us that foundation, so a ton of credit to our players.”
“This year was a big step for us,” Granato said. “But there’s a ways to go on where we want to be.”