The puck drops at Conte Forum for the first time tonight when BC takes on the Wisconsin Badgers at 7 PM. To help preview the matchup, BCI spoke with the hockey writers over at Bucky's 5th Quarter, SB Nation's Badgers website. Take it away, Nicole Haase and Aaron Verderosa!
BCI: So, uh, Wisconsin was pretty bad last year (4-26-5). What the heck happened? How? Why?
Nicole: It was a bad storm of early departures and missed recruits. I'm not going to pretend I've got the historical/background knowledge to answer this as in-depth as you'd probably like, but the moral of the story is that we had a very thin team hit the ice. Then we had a few more guys back out and suddenly it was a disaster of epic proportions. They were 15 of 129 on the power play and had just one player with more than 10 goals.
I will say that one of the reasons I'm back for another year as a fan is that despite the truly horrific record, when you went to a game, it didn't feel like you were watching the absolute worst team on skates. There were flashes of brilliance that made feel like this was a low point, but there was light on the horizon.
BCI: Is head coach Mike Eaves on the hot seat now, or what? What would constitute an acceptable success this season?
Aaron: Mike Eaves is certainly on the hot seat coming off of Wisconsin's worst season. As the head coach of the Badgers for the last 14 years, Eaves has done a tremendous job at making players NHL-ready while maintaining Wisconsin's great reputation as a proud hockey school. This season is about proving last season was nothing but a fluke. A winning record in the Big Ten and a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament will go a long way for Eaves when it comes time AD Barry Alvarez's to make a decision going into next season.
BCI: Who are some key players for Wisconsin this year? Any major freshman additions expected to bolster the team?
Aaron: Junior Grant Besse returns for another season after leading the team with 11 goals and 22 points last season. Besse was named 2013 Minnesota Mr. Hockey after a 48 goal season so there is now doubt Besse is capable of a big scoring season.
Wisconsin second leading scorer from last season (7 goals, 2 Assists), Jedd Soleway, also returns looking to have a more productive season. His goal over the against Northern Michigan is exactly what the junior needed to get off to a good start.
Senior captains Eddie Wittchow and Kevin Schulze will be key factors on and off the ice if Wisconsin is going to have success. The captaincy is decided by a players vote and the two defensemen came within one vote of each other resulting in a dual captaincy. Wisconsin gave up 129 goals last season and Wittchow and Schulze combined for a plus/minus total of -41. With an inexperienced three-headed goalie situation still up in the air after week 1 of the season, the defense is going to have to carry a lot of the weight on as the goalies shake off early season nerves.
Freshmen Luke Kunin and Seamus Malone are the two freshmen to watch for the Badgers. Kunin stood out in both games against Northern Michigan getting shots off with ease and scoring a third-period power play goal that represented the tying goal in the Badgers comeback. Kunin didn't look like a freshmen out there even to Coach Mikes Eaves as he felt he seemed to transition to collegiate hockey with little trouble. Kunin himself attributed this to playing against D1 like talent when playing for U.S. National Under 18 team last year. Kunin was the top scorer at the recent Prospects game, with two goals and an assist. Malone recorded a pair of assists over the weekend. He has aggressive forecheck, using his size to win battles. These two freshmen are going to be top 6 forwards throughout the season and will be asked to log minutes on both the PK and PP. Eaves knows he is asking a lot of them but it is whats required for the Badgers to win games.
BCI. Wisconsin is now two games in to their season with two ties against NMU -- how did they look in these games? Did they leave you with more promise for the season ahead?
Aaron: Considering all the unknowns the Badgers faced in the offseason with a new coaching staff, 11 new players, and a undetermined starting goalie all while coming off their worst season in history, the Badgers impressed me last weekend.
The penalty looked strong allowing only one goal on Northern Michigan's six power play opportunities. And the power play cashed in three times on 10 opportunities after only scoring 15 power play goals last season.
The Badgers led 1-0 going into the third period on Friday. After looking pretty solid through the first two period they gave up 2 goals in the third and scored a tying goal in the last minute of the game to stave off a loss. In contrast, the Badgers trailed 3-0 going into the third period on Saturday. After looking pretty bad through the first two periods they remarkably scored 3 goals in 2:46 to again stave off a loss.
Both games required the Badgers to show resilience and character. With a young team that is still finding its stride and developing its chemistry both two comebacks will go a long way in the dressing room. It is common for a young team to look around when giving up a lead or when facing a 3 goal deficit and ask, "Who is going to step up and lead the charge?".Eaves feels these comebacks are a good start in beginning the search for those answers.
Goalies Adam Miller and Matt Jurusik both got their first collegiate starts last weekend and they both seemed overwhelmed at times but were able to settle in after facing more shots. Miller looked to be the the stronger of the two and I expect him to get the start against BC.
Two top ten ranked teams in BC and BU will be a great test for the Badgers and it'll be interesting to see if they can build off some their successes from last weekend.
BCI: We're (incredibly) in to year 3 of the B1G Hockey Conference now, so I have to ask the big picture question about how it's going so far, and its impact on Wisconsin hockey, he six B1G teams' hockey programs, and college hockey in general. What do you think?
Nicole: The thing that I've seen with B1G Hockey is that those "recognizable name" opponents seemed to draw in spectators that may not have shown up to see the Badgers play North Dakota. Some of the most attended games in the season I'd rather not talk about were Michigan and Michigan State. I'm loathe to attribute much - good or bad - to the switch in conferences. The Badgers were already hemorrhaging season ticket holders before the switch was made and anything that's a result of last season certainly can't be blamed on the conference. Basically, Wisconsin is not a good case study for the impact of the new conference. We were struggling before the switch, so who knows what to attribute to the B1G. Attendance for the B1G Tourney has been mediocre. I guess I'm sort of indifferent about the B1G and subsequent conference shakeup. I think the realignment can and will be good for other conferences and schools and I don't think it's made a huge difference in either direction in Madison.
BCI: Any predictions for Friday night?
Aaron: I think Freshmen Adam Miller will get his second start of the season on Friday night and the Badgers will have to continue to have a strong penalty kill and productive power play to put themselves in a position to come away with a win.
Thanks again to Bucky's 5th Quarter for helping us preview tonight's game. You can follow them on Twitter at @b5q.