With two televised games against the Wisconsin Badgers on the horizon, it’s time to get excited for the hockey weekend. To preview it, we spoke with Jon Beidelschies from Bucky’s 5th Quarter, SB Nation’s Wisconsin blog. Take it away...
1. I know it’s probably been discussed many times and in many venues, but what the heck happened in the final years under Mike Eaves? It’s not like great players stopped showing up at Wisconsin.
JB: Yeah, it's definitely gotten some ink. Lots and lots of ink. The consensus was that he mismanaged his roster and recruiting, particularly after Mark Osiecki left to take the Ohio State job. Rosters got out of balance and he didn't do a good job of managing the ones who came. If you look at Eaves's record at Wisconsin, you can see that he always had peaks and troughs. I think he just got stuck in a trough. Osiecki's back as part of the Three Amigos hire along with the fabulous Granato boys so it will be interesting to see if recruiting stabilizes. Early returns are positive.
2. Putting aside the impact of the new coaching staff – how much returning talent is on this roster? On paper, should the team have won more games last year?
JB: Wisconsin is ostensibly a national program that had the 2016 15th overall draft pick in Luke Kunin and played in Big Ten, which was not the pinnacle of hockey glory in 2015-16. On the one hand, yeah, I think this team could probably have mustered more than three wins in a pretty mediocre conference. On the other, they got outscored by over 30 goals over the course of the season (particularly bad was a -27 goal differential in the third period). I think it's telling that in addition to the seniors who left, five players departed the program upon Tony Granato's hire, including sophomore Adam Rockwood who finished seventh on the team in points last year and got some first line run. Kind of says something about how the new guys felt about the talent from last year.
3. With the new staff and new recruits in place, what’s a reasonable expectation for how much improvement we will see out of the Badgers this year? What would be a reasonable benchmark for success?
JB: This team's talented, but young. The Badgers had five players drafted this year, including two - Kunin and freshman Trent Frederic (29th overall) - in the first round. Given the drama over the past few years, I think I'd be happy with a winning record, some nice signature wins (cough, cough BC) and a spirit of enthusiasm around the club. The Kohl Center used to be packed for Badger hockey - it's bizarre how much it's dropped off. If the new squad can reinvigorate the fan base while building a nice foundation for the future, I would consider that a rousing success in 2016-17.
4. Wisconsin had a split opening weekend at NMU – thoughts on their performance in that series?
JB: Well, I was glad that they at least came home with a split. The good news - the offense was firing on all cylinders on Saturdayand we finally came from behind and won a game. It had been over a year since that happened. The bad news, it was a 6-5 win. Other bad news from the weekend included a goal jut 19 seconds into the first period of the first game on Friday. That was not a terribly auspicious start to the season. But they got a W on (semi-) neutral ice and that's what's important.
5. For Wisconsin to have a successful weekend against BC, what do the games need to look like? Wide open? Slow and defensive? Physical? Or is it too early to tell what sort of style they will prefer?
JB: In between going to classes to finish his degree, Granato has spoken a lot about style and its impact on recruiting. It looks like he wants to open things up to get the players, recruits, and fans excited again. We'll see what he does against a top flight program like BC, but I suspect there may be some fireworks. Seeing as we gave up 5 to Northern Michigan, we'll see who benefits.
6. With Notre Dame joining the B1G, they’re going to have 7 teams, so you have to imagine an 8th is coming.
Question 6a) is – who do you THINK is going to end up filling the conference?
JB: Are we sure they're going to eight? I am not. The Big Ten is a bit particular when it comes to adding schools, even as affiliates (not an endorsement of the behavior, just an observation). Johns Hopkins (lacrosse) and the aforementioned Irish certainly fit the bill - historically relevant schools with high academic standards. If they do go to eight - and again, I think they'll sit tight for a bit - I'd look at Miami of Ohio in the NCHC. Midwest school, good academics, historically strong team, and it has some old-time CCHA history with Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State (and Notre Dame, come to think about it).
6b) would be what is your dream scenario? – be it poaching someone, or be it a current Big Ten school starting hockey… what would be most exciting to you?
JB: If I'm waving my magic wand, I put the old WCHA band back together and poach Colorado College, Denver and North Dakota to bring the conference to ten. I'd bring back the Final Five while I'm at it. I love that there's a Big Ten hockey conference, but I do miss the old rivalries. On a less ambitious scale, I actually think Miami might be an interesting fit, particularly it the B1G wants get to - and stay at - eight.
7. What do you expect to see happen this weekend?
JB: I think we get a split. Madison is in the midst of an epic sports week and I think some of that energy is going to carry over into the Kohl Center. I am hoping that perhaps the Eagles might be overlooking us a bit and we catch them napping. A win over a Top 10 team would be a huge start to the new era.
Thanks to Bucky’s 5th Quarter for our seemingly annual conversations about men’s and women’s hockey! The puck drops on BC-Wisconsin tomorrow night at 8 PM ET; you can watch the game locally on NESN or on DirecTV on either NESN or Fox Sports West.