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It’s time to fire Tony Granato

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The Wisconsin men’s hockey program is an embarrassment and heads must roll.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: JAN 13 Michigan State at Wisconsin Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team is an embarrassment.

This year’s iteration of the team sits at 4-8 overall and 2-4-1 in the Big Ten after being swept by No. 15 Notre Dame, 5-1 and 3-0, over the weekend. Those results aren’t even THAT embarrassing on their own, as Notre Dame is a decent team that was playing at home, but it is the latest in a long string of embarrassing results that a once proud program has suffered under the leadership of head coach Tony Granato.

Granato came back to Madison ahead of the 2016 season to much fanfare. Firstly, he was replacing Mike Eaves, who had won 12 games combined over his last two seasons, so he already had a leg up because he literally wasn’t Eaves. Secondly, Granato is a Wisconsin men’s hockey legend having been named an All-American twice while skating in Madison and finishing his Badger career as the school’s fourth-leading scorer with 220 points, ranking third with 100 career goals. All of that is before you even note his successful career as both an NHL player and coach, which would surely appeal to recruits looking to get to the next level.

“I’m very confident that we’ve taken the right steps today in re-establishing the dominance of our hockey program,” athletic director Barry Alvarez said at the press conference to announce Granato’s hiring.

“It was more than I could dream for to get all three of those guys. To me, it’s the Dream Team,” Alvarez went on to say, when adding assistants Don Granato and Mark Osiecki to the staff as well.

Well, things have clearly not gone as planned.

(it should be noted that Wisconsin’s eighth loss this season came by three goals)

Granato is now in his sixth season behind the bench in Madison and has made the NCAA Tournament one time and when he got there, ranked as the top-seed in the region, his team lost to Bemidji State in the first round, 6-3.

He has a losing record (86-90-14 overall, 55-56-12 Big Ten) and has won the Big Ten regular season title once (he has not won the Big Ten Tournament). Three of his five completed season have ended with losing records and this year looks like it is headed in that direction as well.

The talent he has had in Madison has been enviable and he has squandered it. Last season’s team was chock full of NHL talent, including Hobey Baker Award winner Cole Caufield, and while a Big Ten title is certainly nice, more was expected.

Detroit Red Wings v Montreal Canadiens
Cole Caufield was a key member of Montreal’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year.
Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

He has also had K’Andre Miller, Wyatt Kalynuk, Trent Frederic and Luke Kunin not to mention players like Dylan Holloway and Alex Turcotte who were recent first round picks that could debut with their respective teams later this year. Hell, this year’s team has Corson Ceulemans on it, the seventh Badger to get picked in the first round of the NHL draft in the last six years.

Talent acquisition is not the problem in Madison. Talent development is.

Another problem is apathy. The state of Wisconsin doesn’t have an NHL team and while there are surely Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks within state lines, the Badgers hockey program is the main game in town. The women’s team routinely leads the nation in attendance and the men’s hockey team, when things are clicking, has the Kohl Center rocking.

Since things have not been clicking, the ol’ barn has lacked juice and every time Todd Milewski tweets out a picture from the opening face-off a little piece of me dies inside. Even after a season where fans weren’t allowed in the arena the Badgers couldn’t muster a decent showing for the home opener.

This is just sad.

Even in a game against ranked arch-rival Minnesota, whose fans travel well, after a big overtime win the night before...there are still plenty of empty seats.

Now, Wisconsin is still near the top of the nation in total attendance because they play in the second-largest arena in the country and, as mentioned, there is no professional team with which to compete, but these pictures tell a different story. Tickets are also more reasonably priced for hockey than they are for football or men’s basketball which, even if the team stinks, makes it an appealing option for a cheap night out.

Lastly, and this is purely anecdotal...but I’d imagine it has played out elsewhere too, my friends who are Wisconsin fans never talk about the men’s hockey team. There is a group of us, eight to be exact, and seven of us had hockey season tickets while in school. Four of us drove to Colorado College one winter break to watch the Badgers destroy the Tigers. We slept outside for a week, multiple years, in order to secure good seats with the Crease Creatures.

NCAA HOCKEY: JAN 24 Ohio State at Wisconsin
Phil! Phil Phil Phil! Phil Phil Phillllllllllll!
Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

What I’m trying to say is, we were the kind of people who cared. We were deeply invested in the success of the men’s hockey team and now, I doubt any of them outside of maybe one, could name the starting goalie for UW. Now, to be fair, few of us still live in Madison but it is easier than ever to keep tabs on sports that aren’t on TV every week and none of us make the effort.

When we here at B5Q don’t report on the men’s hockey team there isn’t too much of an uproar from the commenters. People are excited that we are expanding our coverage of the wrestling team and the women’s basketball team and that our volleyball and women’s hockey coverage is some of the best out there...but they rarely bring up men’s hockey.

Wisconsin men’s hockey is Indiana men’s basketball. They are Nebraska football. They are hoping that past glories and banners will cover up current struggles. Well, they aren’t and change needs to be made.

It is time for Chris McIntosh to fire men’s hockey head coach Tony Granato.