Going into the 2019-2020 season, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (10-17-1, 5-14-1-1 Big Ten) faced high expectations from the college hockey world and Badger hockey fans.
For a program that hasn’t made an appearance in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament since 2014, many thought this season would serve as a year to catapult the Badgers back into the national spotlight, and ultimately the NCAA Tournament.
Now, with Big Ten play and the regular season wrapping up, Wisconsin finds itself sitting on the outside of the national conversation with a sub .500 record overall and in conference play.
Though the NCAA tournament is seemingly out of reach, the young Badgers will still look to use the final weeks of the season to gain much-needed experience and improve in the long term.
For a team with seven freshmen on the roster and only three seniors, lack of experience has been a glaring issue for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team throughout the season.
Though the freshman class is loaded with talent, including four NHL Draft picks and two first-rounders, the Badgers learned the hard way this season that winning Big Ten hockey games down the stretch requires more than just talent alone.
Included in this young batch of players were two of the most anticipated incoming freshmen in Wisconsin men’s hockey history, Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield.
Turcotte and Caufield both came to Madison fresh off being selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, with Turcotte going to the Los Angeles Kings with the No. 5 pick and Caufield getting snagged by the Montreal Canadiens with the No. 15 pick.
Despite the Badgers’ struggles this season, Turcotte and Caufield have not disappointed with their individual play, which leaves Badger hockey fans salivating at what they are capable of accomplishing in the future, if they choose to stay at Wisconsin for at least another year before jumping to the NHL.
With Caufield more likely to stay at Wisconsin for another season, more experience to complement his impressive talents could lead him into the Hobey Baker Award conversation as the nation’s top college hockey player for the 2020-2021 season.
As for another freshman on the roster and former U.S. National Team Development Program teammate of Turcotte and Caufield, Owen Lindmark has shown flashes of potential as a dominant two-way center for the Badgers in the coming years.
Lindmark contributes solid minutes on the penalty kill, with two short-handed goals on the season so far, and he has shown a devoted work ethic during his freshman season. Considering the young talent hasn’t reached their full potential to this point, there is certainly a silver lining on what has been a disappointing season so far for Wisconsin.
Even though a spot in the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tournament is a highly unlikely destination for this Wisconsin team come late March, the Badgers still have some postseason hockey to participate in with the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 6. Currently sitting in last place in the Big Ten regular season standings leaves the Badgers in an unfavorable position to win the tournament, but it can serve as added experience for a young team that needs it.
After losing their second consecutive game to Michigan at Yost Ice Arena Feb. 8, Head Coach Tony Granato expressed his belief that the Badgers would be ready for the postseason.
“We will be ready for playoffs. We will finish the season the right way to get ready for it,” Granato said, according to UW Athletics.
Though many are not giving Wisconsin much of a chance to get out of the first round of the tournament, Coach Granato sees an opportunity for his team to do some damage and finish off the season in a way that can provide a much-needed confidence boost heading into the long off-season. The team has nothing to lose and can empty the tank come Big Ten Tournament time.
In the end, most will remember this season as a massive let down for the Wisconsin men’s hockey program. While this might be true with regard to their record so far this season, the experience that the young talent on this team has acquired throughout the year must not be overlooked.
With presumably most of the roster from this year staying intact for the 2020-21 season, the adversity the Badgers have faced can serve as a positive for the core group going forward as they attempt to bring the Wisconsin men’s hockey program back to the top of the college hockey world.