Heading into the 2019-2020 NCAA Hockey season, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team faced high pre-season expectations, but they posted a disappointing 14-20 record and failed to deliver a NCAA Tournament berth for the sixth straight season. This is a glaring issue for a perennial program that has produced loads of professional talent.
Since Head Coach Tony Granato’s arrival to Madison in 2016, the Badgers have yet to make the NCAA Tournament and have posted a 62-72-12 (.466) overall record. But, with a talented freshman class arriving and lower pre-season expectations, Wisconsin could shock the college hockey world this upcoming season.
The Badgers return a majority of their roster from last season and added six freshmen and one graduate transfer to the squad. This incoming group includes forwards Sam Stange and Mathieu De St. Phalle, defensemen Anthony Kehrer and Luke LaMaster, and goalies Ben Garrity, Cameron Rowe and Robbie Beydoun. These players will look to fill the roles of players such as Alex Turcotte, K’Andre Miller, Sean Dhooghe and Daniel Lebedeff, who won’t be returning to the team for this upcoming season.
As for the returning players, the Badgers will see their top point and goal scorer return in the form of sophomore star Cole Caufield. Caufield shouldered the brunt of the offensive load last season with 19 goals, 17 assists and 36 points in 36 games as a freshman.
Now a sophomore, Caufield will be looking to lead an explosive offense in what looks to be his last year in Madison before heading to the Montreal Canadiens, who drafted him 15th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Badgers will also get junior Roman Ahcan back after a productive sophomore season with 14 goals, 11 assists and 25 points in 33 games.
Though the Badgers return a good amount of offensive production in 2020-2021, one challenge will be replacing all three goalies from the 2019-20 roster who will not be returning to the team for this season. Daniel Lebedeff, who started a majority of the games in net last season for the Badgers, has opted to go play in his home country of Finland.
Jack Berry, Lebedeff’s backup last season, and Johan Blomquist, the Badger’s third goalie last season, will not return this season after graduating. This leaves the net open for three incoming goalies. The options to fill the starting goalie spot include freshmen Ben Garrity, Cameron Rowe and graduate transfer Robbie Beydoun.
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Garrity hails from Rosemount, MN. The 6 foot 2 inch goalie played for the North American Hockey League’s Minot Minotauros last season. Rowe is from Wilmette, IL, and spent his time with the United States Hockey League’s Des Moines Buccaneers. Beydoun, the elder of the group, played three successful years of college hockey at Michigan Tech before transferring to Wisconsin for a graduate year. In Beydoun, the Badgers get the experienced goalie they needed after the departures from last season.
On the back end, Wisconsin’s defensive core will remain similar to last season despite losing their two top scoring blue liners, K’Andre Miller and Wyatt Kalynuk, to the professional ranks. To fill in for their productivity, newly named team captain and junior Ty Emberson will look to step up and solidify himself as the number one defensemen for the Badgers. Along with Emberson, seniors Tyler Inamoto and Josh Ess will bring experience and skill this upcoming season.
Sophomore puck-moving defenseman Mike Vorlicky will also be called upon to possibly fill a top four role for Wisconsin this season after an effective freshman season.
Badger fans and the college hockey world have their eyes on this team to possibly deliver head coach Tony Granato’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since arriving in Madison.
With a schedule not yet set for the upcoming season, the Badgers must stay prepared for many possibilities for the start of the season. In order to achieve success, the Badgers must play like they did during their impressive 6-2 start a season ago, which included wins over national powerhouses like Minnesota Duluth and Clarkson, two teams that were poised to make the NCAA Tournament before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
The challenge for Coach Tony Granato will be finding out how he can get his team to play this way throughout a full season to keep up with the rest of the Big Ten, which has become a very formidable hockey conference. If Wisconsin comes up short of regular season success and an NCAA Tournament berth once again in 2021, talks about Coach Granato’s future in Madison might begin.