Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Erickson: “Men’s hockey proved me wrong, I don’t hate it”

Slightly laden down with tryptophan and a little too much pumpkin pie from my delayed Thanksgiving celebration, I sat in the press conference room of the Kohl Center at about 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2012.

I was tired. I had just spent the entire day conversing with aunts and uncles I see on an average of twice a year. But the exhaustion from a marathon of conversation paled in comparison to the 60 minutes of hockey I had just witnessed. As I sat there, contemplating the game, all I could think was “not this again.”

It was only 10 games into the season and the Badgers had just finished only their second home stand. I had only seen them play live a total of four times. Of those four games, Wisconsin had not won a single tilt. Up to that point in the season, the record stood at 1-7-2.


It was the beginning of my second year on the beat. I had just covered a team that finished its 2011-12 campaign at 17-18-2 overall and 11-15-2 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. Adding to their mediocre performance that year, the Badgers exited the playoffs after only one weekend.

Last season had been just so-so, but this was just unfathomable.

When I prepped for the start of the season only weeks earlier, the team spoke with so much confidence about its potential for the year. Certainly, teams will always say they expect to go far, but there was definite sureness in their voices – they knew what they could be capable of.

Ten games later, that confidence was incredibly hard to find. In fact, no one was trying to make light of the situation. Senior forward and assistant captain Ryan Little didn’t hesitate to admit they were practically sitting at rock bottom.

I wasn’t ready to give up on this team. I knew this team was capable of more than what they were putting on the ice. I had seen them develop a young team into a more mature one a year ago. I had seen young guys forced to take on more than they probably should have as freshmen and sophomores.

More than that, I had seen them play at some of the highest levels. At the end of the 2011-12 season the Badgers traveled to Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis and held an eventually Frozen Four-bound Gopher squad to a 4-1 decision March 2, 2012. They entered one of the most hostile environments in college hockey and stole a win from a then-ranked No. 4 Minnesota.

That night in November, I couldn’t quite put it all together. I saw the results, couldn’t explain it, but wasn’t ready to call it a season. But I was certainly fearful Wisconsin wouldn’t find a way to turn the ship – as head coach Mike Eaves chanted on end.

I wasn’t ready to call it a season, but I resigned to the fact that I was bound to cover another “building” year.

Then the unprecedented happened: Wisconsin went on a 21-5-5 tear that housed an 11-game unbeaten streak and an 11-game in-conference unbeaten streak en route to a Broadmoor Trophy and an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

On March 23, as I clutched my computer screen – unable to type due to nerves – and couldn’t control an inane bounce in my legs, which was only a further manifestation of my jitters, I watched Wisconsin defend a 3-2 lead over Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five Championship game and truly become the team I imagined they could be.

My purported steely objectivity was out the door. I wasn’t cheering but, by God, I could not wipe the smile off my face. I thought back to that November night and it was hard to comprehend it was still the same season. Wisconsin had gone from the lowest of lows to one of the higher highs – the highest is still under pursuit, a national championship.

Of course, after the win the main question on everyone’s mind was simply, how?

How could a team that had one win in its first 10 games even come close to winning the WCHA playoff title?

How could a team that seemed to have repeatedly shot itself in the foot and couldn’t win an overtime game to save its season possibly legitimately be in the hunt for a national title?

Ask them and they’ll simply tell you they’ve been playing do-or-die hockey for months now.

“We were playing for our lives,” senior defenseman and captain John Ramage said in a press conference Monday. “If we lost on Saturday against CC, we’d be out, and we’d be done. So we’ve been fighting for our lives for a while here. Like I said before, back in the Denver series, we were 1-7-2. If we didn’t start playing well then, our season would have been done really early. So just fighting for our lives.”

Beyond playing for their season for weeks on end, Eaves and Co. credit getting the right mix on the ice with getting their full roster back after injuries were cured and suspensions served. That “right mix” created a chemistry that went on to find the back of the net – and often. The Badgers saw consistent production from its top two lines and help when needed from its third and fourth. Beyond just the forwards five different defensemen scored over the final stretch of their season, three of which have scored multiple times.

All that depth led to 92 goals over their last 31 games to date (starting at Denver Nov. 30 with their turnaround). Thirty-six of those goals were scored over the Badgers last nine games where they went 8-9-0, winning six straight for the WCHA title.

So while I’m certainly thankful I’ve been able to witness this incredible ride – with the NCAA tournament yet to be played – I’m just happy that part of me that was ready to give up on this season didn’t.

But let it be known Wisconsin’s turnaround isn’t an attempt to stick it to the man, or to quiet critics – myself included.

“I mean, I don’t feel like we really did it to prove other people wrong,” junior forward Tyler Barnes said in Monday’s press conference. “It was more for the locker room and to prove it to ourselves and reaffirm what we actually believed. I mean, you’re going to have people like that whether you’re having success or failure. So it’s not really something where you want to sit up here and stick it to somebody. We’re just happy with what we’re able to accomplish for each other.”

Kelly is a senior majoring in journalism. Have you been along for this roller coaster ride with Wisconsin all season? Let her know at [email protected] or give her a follow on Twitter @kellymerickson.

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