Coming into the 2012-13 season, the Wisconsin men's hockey team had high expectations. While the Badgers lost Justin Schultz to the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, they returned virtually everyone else, and were thought of as an experienced group.
Things didn't exactly start off on the right foot, however. Before the team could even play a game, it learned blue-chip freshman Nic Kerdiles would be suspended for the first 10 games of the season. Not long after, the Badgers saw injuries to top players Derek Lee and Mark Zengerle. To top it off, assistant coach Bill Butters stepped down to pursue his passion of the ministry.
All that added up to a 1-7-2 start, putting the Badgers behind the 8-ball from the outset. Since that time, the Badgers have gone 21-5-5 and are widely considered one of the hottest teams in all of college hockey.
That 21st victory was especially sweet, as it earned the Badgers the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA playoff champions and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, which starts next week.
Sunday night, Wisconsin learned it will open the tournament as the No. 4 seed in the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., against No. 1 seed UMass-Lowell. The two clubs will square off Friday at 3:30 p.m. CT, and the game can be seen live on ESPN3.
The River Hawks earned their spot in the tourney by winning both the Hockey East regular season and playoff titles. Lowell is the third overall seed in the 16-team tournament, while the Badgers are No. 14 overall.
"It's a great thing for these young men," head coach Mike Eaves said Saturday night. "They played for each other, and learned some lessons the hard way -- there were a lot of silver linings that happened early in the season and they used them to their advantage, and stayed together through tough times and it served us well."
While the Badgers struggled through adversity early in the season, the leadership was able to keep its eyes on the prize, so to speak.
"At the start of the season we knew exactly what type of team we had," captain John Ramage said. "In our minds, we'd be where we're at right now."
If the Badgers are able to beat UMass-Lowell on Friday, they will advance to the Regional Final Saturday at 5:30 p.m. CT. The Regional final will be shown live on ESPNU.
The winner of the Regional will advance to the Frozen Four at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, April 11-13.
West Regional (Grand Rapids, Mich.):
15 Yale vs. 2 Minnesota
10 Niagara vs. 8 North Dakota
Midwest Regional (Toledo, Ohio):
13 St. Cloud State vs. 4 Notre Dame
11 Minnesota State vs. 5 Miami
East Regional (Providence, R.I.):
16 Canisius vs. 1 Quinnipiac
12 Union vs. 6 Boston College
Northeast Regional (Manchester, N.H.):
14 Wisconsin vs. 3 Massachusetts-Lowell
9 Denver vs. 7 New Hampshire
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