Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badgers hope to overcome another slow start

Through the first four games of the season, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team finds itself winless heading into a big non-conference series this weekend with North Dakota.

The good news: they have been in this situation before. The bad news: it is an unfavorable position to be in.

Just a year ago, UW went into its third series of the year having been manhandled on the east coast by Boston College and Boston University two weeks prior by a total score of 16-5 between two games.


A year before that in 2012-2013, Wisconsin went into December before it won its second game of the season, compiling a 1-7-2 record in the first 10 games of the year.

So slow starts aren’t exactly anything new for the Badgers, and just like a year ago when they lost handedly on the road, they got another aptly timed bye week. This year, they actually got back-to-back bye weeks.

The two-week period without any games has allowed UW a chance to refocus and get back to the basics, according to senior assistant captain and center Joseph LaBate.

“Obviously the games didn’t go how we wanted to, but it’s a fresh start,” LaBate said. “We’ve really gone to work these past two weeks and learned a lot of new stuff.”

With 11 true freshmen on this year’s roster after nine seniors graduated a season ago, there has been a learning curve for the whole team.

“I wouldn’t say there’s one main thing that we’ve been working on,” senior goaltender Joel Rumpel said. “It’s kind of just the game as a whole. We have so many new guys, it’s kind of just getting everyone on the same page and that’s what we’ve been working on these past two weeks.”

The high number of young players on the roster is what makes this year’s slow start unique. With nine seniors and only five freshmen a season ago and a group of 13 upperclassmen back in the 2012-2013 campaign, Wisconsin had a lot more experience to rely on despite the early losses. This season the Badgers have just nine upperclassmen total and three are goaltenders.

The sheer lack of older players has forced freshmen and other younger players, who had not logged much ice time previously, into the spotlight in the early going, which has reflected in their goal scoring abilities. After losing seven of the top eight point scorers from a year ago, the Badgers have had trouble finding reliable scoring, and have managed just three goals in the four games.

LaBate brought in high expectations this season as the leading returning point scorer from last season, but has yet to manage a point yet through the first two series. He hasn’t been without opportunities though, as has been the case with his fellow line members on the first line in sophomore Grant Besse and senior Brad Navin. But despite the fact that the three lead Wisconsin in shots, they have just one goal to show for it between the three of them, and it belongs to Navin.

Head coach Mike Eaves could tell his older players were pressing to score goals in the first four games, something LaBate reiterated, but LaBate said he has loosened up in the past two weeks. He just knows the goals are coming.

“It’s not a lack of chances,” LaBate said. “Sometimes you just have to bear down and get back to playing a gritty game, getting a dirty goal. The only way to get started is getting dirty goal. It’s not going to be a highlight reel goal if it’s your first goal. It’s usually going to be a dirty one.”

But the offense isn’t alone in its growing pains, as the defense and the goaltending have had adjustments of their own. After another solid season between the pipes last year, Rumpel was arguably the biggest key returning member with a career 2.16 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. But through his first three starts, Rumpel has allowed eight goals and has stopped just 88 percent of the pucks he has seen.

The senior netminder admitted that he wasn’t satisfied with his start to the season, but like his teammates he has continued to progress, especially with the help of the bye weeks.

“I didn’t start off as well as I would’ve liked to up in Alaska, but each game I feel like I’ve been getting stronger and I’m kind of getting back into the groove of things,” Rumpel said.

Despite a tough start, Rumpel will still be in net Friday against North Dakota. Wisconsin has used both Rumpel and fellow senior Landon Peterson interchangeably at the beginning of the last three years, and Peterson could see time again if Rumpel struggles.

Regardless, Eaves made it clear the important thing for Wisconsin right now is building off two solid weeks of practice and transitioning that into a game setting.

“The thing about going out and practicing and doing the things we do – at the end of it you feel good about yourself because you worked hard. And that’s the beginning of confidence,” Eaves said. “When you work hard, you feel good about yourself. You solidify that confidence by doing it in a game.”

A win against one of the better programs in college hockey this weekend could do a lot for that confidence.

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