When LaBahn Arena was built last season next door to the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin men's hockey team reaped the benefits of having a brand new locker room in addition to an immaculate practice facility. Since moving into their new home, the Badgers have continued to spruce up their new digs.
One particular new piece of signage recently caught the eye of Wisconsin's senior captain Frankie Simonelli.
"We actually just got a new plaque up in the locker room with all the players that have been captains at Wisconsin," Simonelli said at Big Ten media day last month. "It's a long list of names, and for my name to be on there, it's definitely an honor."
Simonelli will play a large role this season in ushering in a new era at Wisconsin: Big Ten hockey. The players are looking forward to the new challenge, according to Simonelli.
"We're excited about it," Simonelli said. "The exciting thing is, hopefully it expands our fan base. They'll recognize the new teams -- Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State -- we'll create some new rivalries with those teams. They are more recognizable with football and basketball.
"And with only six teams, it expands our non conference games. We're excited about our non-conference schedule this year, going out to Boston, playing Miami."
The Badgers do run quite the gauntlet of a schedule in the first five weeks of the season. After hosting Northern Michigan this weekend, the Badgers travel to play No. 4 Boston College and No. 19 Boston University one night each.
After a home stop to host Lake Superior State, the Badgers make consecutive road trips to face No. 2 Miami and No. 5 Minnesota.
While the early-season schedule is grueling, Simonelli likes what the Badgers return defensively to slow down some of those high flying offenses.
"Veteran group back there and it starts with our goaltenders Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson," Simonelli said. "We're excited about it, plus we have Coach Walsh back with us. Joined half way through the year last year, now he's on board full time.
"So, we're all excited. We have to work hard, we know it starts with (the defense) moving forward, so we're going to accept that responsibility."
Matt Walsh joined the Wisconsin staff last season after Bill Butters abruptly resigned to pursue his passion of the ministry. Walsh wasn't the only reason for the Badgers' turnaround last season, but Simonelli liked the fresh ideas he brought to rink.
"You bring in a new coach and they all have their own philosophies," Simonelli said. "We learned some things from Coach Butters, some new things from Coach Walsh. You just kind of take things as you go. You play for so many coaches down the line, and you learn from each one.
"Coach Walsh came in at mid-season, and that's a tough thing to do, especially the hard time we were going through. I know for him, he didn't want to come in and step on everyone's toes, and he did a good job transitioning with us. We're looking forward to having him back with us this year."
Ranked No. 3 in all major polls to start the season and picked to win the Big Ten by the league's coaches, the Badgers have high expectations for 2013-14. Simonelli says Wisconsin's veteran depth should carry them a long way.
"I'm not the only veteran here this year," Simonelli said. "We've got 16 upperclassmen, and we've all been through a lot together. Last year our team went through ups and downs, and we got through it and came out with a (WCHA Final Five trophy) at the end, and we were excited about that. We all went through that together, so everyone knows what it takes."
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