Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Big Ten Media Days: Wisconsin hockey picked as preseason favorite

ST. PAUL, Minn. — There could not have been a more perfect backdrop for the first Big Ten hockey Media Day.

As the Minnesota Wild practiced rows below, the coaches and players from the six member schools — Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State — got acquainted with one another and spoke to the media about the upcoming inaugural season.

Between mingling and interviews, players and coaches alike stepped out from the small array of tables set up in the Xcel Energy Center (site of the Big Ten Tournament come March) concourse to look over a Wild practice that boasted a few alums from several veteran schools including Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan.


The coaches started the day with a round of press conferences and before long a common theme arose: the new division is an exciting change and the exposure it will provide via the Big Ten brand is only going to help the sport.

“This is spreading our brand, the Big Ten brand for all of our schools across the country,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said, referring to the Big Ten Network. “You get into so many new markets, and I think that’s going to be a real win down the line too, even for recruiting.”

And while many current or longstanding college hockey fans are finding it difficult to embrace the change, the coaches are confident that those begrudging feelings will disappear as Big Ten Hockey becomes the new norm over the next season.

Wisconsin picked as preseason favorite

While each team certainly wants to make a splash in the inaugural season, Wisconsin will have to do so with a large target pinned squarely on its back.

The Badgers return the most veteran roster of any team in the conference with nine seniors and seven juniors returning. The only early NHL departure the Badgers lost was center Brenden Woods who would have been a junior, one head coach Mike Eaves admits was a little bit of a shock.

“Every young person that comes to your program has a different agenda, background, goals,” Eaves said. “For different reasons, each boy decided they wanted to stay for one year, to build their role, physically, mentally, emotionally. It’s something that we really don’t control.”

This season will be the first time in several years Eaves’ has coached a veteran team. Senior and 2013-14 captain Frankie Simonelli said he and his teammates never talked about staying together the way they have — especially as winger Michael Mersch was one of the few expected to leave after last season — it was just something that happened individually.

“It’s all personal decisions,” Simonelli said. “For each guy it’s different. … For our senior class, the guys thought it was the right decision to stay and hopefully we all get rewarded for it.

As a result, Wisconsin will return 91 of its 112 goals from last season which amounts to 81.3 percent of its offense.

After what can only be described as a chaotic season in 2012-13, going from a 1-7-2 start to Broadmoor Trophy Champions and a short-lived trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers hope to learn from last year’s lessons and simply keep rolling through this year.

“Looking at what we did last year, taking what we learned throughout the year and bringing it with us this year will be exciting,” Simonelli said.

Not only will the Badgers carry over life lessons from last season, but also some impressive stats that only add to the threat they pose the rest of the Big Ten.

Most notably, sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles — who is expected to move to center this season — ended last season on a four-game goal streak and a 12-game point streak, both of which are still active. After missing the first ten games of the season due to a suspension, Kerdiles finished the season with 33 points in 32 games played.

Mersch returns as the Badgers leading goal-scorer with 23 goals, a mark that also ranks him as the second-leading returning goal-scorer in the nation. Mersch was also UW’s points leader last season with 36.

Winger Tyler Barnes returns as the Badgers second-leading goal-scorer with 15 tallies on the season. Barnes ended the year on a streak of his own with 17 points in the last 14 games.

Wisconsin also returns its starting center, Mark Zengerle. The senior needs just six more points to become the highest-scoring player under Eaves. He currently has 118 career points.

While all this offense certainly sits well with Eaves & Co., Wisconsin returns a pair of netminders who will continue to battle each other for the starting spot, just as they’ve done the previous two years. Junior Joel Rumpel boasted a .929 save percentage last season and a 1.96 goals-against average which ranked second in Wisconsin history. Fellow junior Landon Peterson was right on his tail with a .926 save percentage and a 1.00 goals against average, ranking third in UW history.

“They come in every day and they push each other,” Eaves said. “It’s a competitive situation every day in practices, and I think that’s what makes them better.”

One new wrinkle: the shootout

Not only will fans get to enjoy watching the Big Ten opponents clash on the rink, but the conference is also introducing shootouts to help create a greater divide in points in the standings.

“From the aspect of a fan, I think it’s tremendous,” Eaves said. “In the game of ice hockey now people get excited about, well in the old days fights, goals and shootouts. I mean, at the end of the game they’re all standing, watching it. I think it really appeals to the public.”

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