The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team has provided mixed results thus far this season, starting 2-0 with two wins against Boston College, splitting a two-game series against Michigan Tech and recently dropping two in a row on the road against North Dakota.
But in the midst of their inconsistency, there has been a massive bright spot for this team: the play of the freshman class.
The Badgers fell 6–2 at home against Michigan Tech Oct. 27. Michigan Tech dominated power play opportunities and shots on goal and played a far cleaner game than the Badgers from horn to horn. With a rematch imminent for the next night, Head Coach Tony Granato decided to make a significant change to his rotation — a starting lineup of all freshmen, something unheard of within the confines of the four-year structure of college hockey.
Starting game two of the series for Coach Granato were defensemen K’Andre Miller and Ty Emberson, forwards Dominick Mersch, Roman Ahcan and Brock Caufield, and goaltender Daniel Lebedeff.
The game marked only the third time since 2000 that the Badgers deployed a line of all freshmen, let alone a starting lineup. As soon as the puck dropped, Granato’s decision paid off, and the Badgers looked like a different team.
Wisconsin won the game 6–2 behind a 24-save, 94 percent save percentage performance from Lebedeff, and a crucial shorthanded goal from Ahcan.
While it was mainly upperclassmen who contributed on the scoreboard, it was the freshmen who set the tone for the game and gave way for the upperclassmen to capitalize on opportunities.
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“We played more as a team tonight,” Granato said to UW Athletics when asked about the team’s newfound energy. “It was good to see everyone working together and supporting one another. Everyone found their place.”
While the talent of the freshmen class was on full display during the Michigan Tech victory, it has not been the only showcase of their ability. Since the season began, the freshmen class has produced a plus/minus of plus 20, the highest of any class on the team, far greater than the sophomores’ plus five, juniors’ plus zero and seniors’ plus two. Of the five players with the highest plus/minus on the team, three of them are freshmen, headlined by Miller with a team-leading plus nine.
In total, there are nine freshmen on the roster, eight of whom are included in the regular rotation. Together the nine have accounted for six goals, 16 assists and 34 blocked shots to pair with their phenomenal plus/minus.
This not including the statistics of the freshman Lebedeff, who leads the team in save percentage at 92 percent and goals allowed per game at 2.02.
Notable individual performances from the freshmen class thus far include Miller’s plus three, one goal performance and plus three, one goal, two assist, five shot performance in victories against Boston College and St. Lawrence respectively; Caufield’s game-winning goal in a 7–5 victory against Boston College; and Lebedeff’s 94 percent and 92 percent save percentages in games against Michigan Tech and North Dakota respectively.
Granato has not been shy when it comes to praising this freshman class, especially after the team’s 3–0 win against Boston College.
“I would assume for the people in the building that have never seen the freshmen, they liked what they saw,” Granato said. “They left it all on the ice, they play hard, they block shots, they compete.”
The Badgers come off of a weekend series against Minnesota in which Lebedeff helped win the latter game by stopping 32 of 33 shots on goal.
They will face Ohio State this weekend.