For the first time in 21 years, the No. 5 University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (19-8-1, 17-6-1 Big Ten) are regular-season Big Ten champions.
Celebrating a 2–1 victory over the Michigan State University Spartans (7-17-2, 5-16-1), the Badgers bench stormed the crease to tackle freshman goalie Cameron Rowe. Screaming and shouting in excitement, the team huddled behind the net and lifted their sticks to rejoice before heading to the blue line to thank the Spartans.
The team then lingered on the ice for another 10 minutes in celebration. The win over Michigan State allowed the Badgers to close the gap on Minnesota, and ultimately take the championship. The Badgers successfully accomplished a sharp turnaround from last year’s last-place finish in the conference.
“Just joy, happiness,” star forward Cole Caufield said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “Being with these guys last year and what happened to us last year, it stuck with us. I think the leadership group that we have takes every day remembering that feeling. Just a total turnaround from our team from last year.”
Neither Rowe nor Caufield were even born the last time the Badgers won a regular-season championship. Last season, the Badgers finished last in the Big Ten conference, suffering their third-consecutive losing season and sixth season without an NCAA bid. Head Coach Tony Granato finally laid down the law and decided things would be different going into this season.
“I think our team, from a player standpoint, a personnel standpoint, last year they took [it] personal,” Granato said. “But they also made a decision to learn from what happened last year and try to make themselves better from it as a group and as individuals. We did the same things as coaches.”
Already over the past two seasons, Caufield continues to make an enormous impact on the program. With the two goals he scored against Michigan State, he extended his lead in the national scoring race and he leads the Badgers in goals this season with 28. Rowe is also continuing to make a statement, ending Saturday’s victory with 40 saves.
“Yeah, the stakes were higher just because of what this game meant to this program and to all of us,” Rowe said. “But at the same time, you just keep doing what you’re doing throughout the season.”
Rowe finished the regular season 5-0 with a .956 save percentage and 1.61 goals against average in road games. During Saturday’s victory, he impressively stopped a one-timer from Charlie Combs and gloved a shot from Josh Nodler while being slid into.
The Badgers are currently scheduled to play either No. 19 Notre Dame or Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals Monday, March 15 in South Bend, Indiana.