With the Wisconsin men's hockey team in the midst of the worst season in school history, fans of the program have had enough. A 4-22-4 record has left many long-time supporters questioning the direction of the program.
Assistant coach Gary Shuchuk has a name for those fans: Idiots.
In an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal that ran in the newspaper Friday morning, Shuchuk had harsh words for the Badgers faithful.
"Real hockey people know what's going on," Shuchuk told the paper. "The idiot fans out there that just care about the wins and losses and all that stuff, they don't understand what's happening."
UPDATE: Shuchuk has apologized.
I’ve played & coached @ UW for 9 yrs & there's no better hockey fans in the country than Badger fans. I apologize 2 those fans 4 what I said— Gary Shuchuk (@gshuchuk) March 6, 2015
While Shuchuk didn't offer up "what's happening" in the article in the State Journal, we can safely assume he is referring to the youth excuse that has been the party line from the coaching staff all season long. Time and time again the fans have been fed lame quotes about the youth of this club.
Let's get one fact straight, they are young, but so are some of the teams they are playing. In terms of age, the Badgers are the 10th-youngest team in the country. The problem is, conference opponents Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan are even younger than UW. As was non-conference opponent Boston University, who is the youngest team in the nation in terms of age, yet finds itself ranked No. 3 in the nation at the moment.
It could be argued that inexperience, not youth, is holding Wisconsin back this season. Yet, last season, Minnesota had eight freshmen play at least 24 games and the Gophers were able to play for a national championship. The Badgers currently have seven first-year freshmen (nine total freshmen, if you include the two redshirt freshmen) projected to reach that 24-game mark this season, presuming Matt Ustaski returns from injury at some point.
North Dakota has been able to make 11-consecutive NCAA tournaments under Dave Hakstol. UND even managed to go 29-16-1, win a WCHA regular season title and go to the Frozen Four in a year when it brought in 13 first-year freshmen.
Yet, Wisconsin fans are "idiots" for expecting more than four wins, 30 games into the season. Silly us.
I received a thought-provoking e-mail a few weeks ago. I think now is the perfect time to share it, because I agree with many of the points this "idiot fan" raises.
"Some people seem to be tempering their reaction to Eaves this season by pointing out how young the team is, as is this is some exogenous condition that Eaves had nothing to do with. But my point is that he didn't accidentally inherit a team with a ton of youth. He's in charge of the whole program, and it's his responsibility to create consistency across seasons and prevent craters like this season from happening. So why is youth being offered as an excuse? This is what Eaves has created, and I don't think he should be let off the hook for the managerial side of things. It seems like even in the best version of his philosophy, the program will be mediocre for three years while it builds toward one big year with lots of veteran players (and let's not forget that he hasn't achieved his best version consistently, or that the philosophy itself has too many pitfalls). At the college level, every head guy is both coach and GM, and if you can't do both jobs at least sufficiently, then you're going to be in trouble."
This is exactly what I talked about earlier in the season. It's laughable for the coaching staff to offer youth or inexperience as an excuse when this is the situation they created. Eaves has been at the helm for 13 years now, we've gone through this four-year cycle three times and this season we're starting the fourth.
From an article I wrote in November:
How did this happen?
Eaves and the UW coaching staff have disregarded Wisconsin's unbalanced recruiting classes. They're obviously aware of it, there's no way they can't be. But they simply choose to ignore the impropriety between classes.
Since Eaves took over the Wisconsin program in 2002, the Badgers are on a four-year cycle. In year one they are very young and inexperienced. In years two and three they grow and get better. And in year four, they are expected to contend for a national championship.
This is significantly driven by experience in forward classes. In Wisconsin's three best years under Eaves, 2005-06, 2009-10 and 2013-14, the Badgers had at least nine forwards who were upperclassmen. All three of those seasons the Badgers were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and in the first two, UW played for a national championship.
The problem is the rest of the years, when Wisconsin isn't loaded up with veteran forwards. For example, this season, when UW has just three upperclassmen forwards, and has started the season 0-8.
If this was a one-cycle thing, I feel like most fans would understand. It's hard to adjust the recruiting cycles in just a few years. The problem, however, is that Eaves has been running the Wisconsin program for 12-plus years, and we're still on the same four-year recruiting cycle with absolutely no change on the horizon.
So, basically, Eaves has made it loud and clear that the Badgers are going to be good once every four years, and will only compete for a national championship in years in which they are significantly loaded by seniors.
The problem? When those seniors lay an egg like they did last season in the first-round vs. North Dakota. What happens when you lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament? Disastrous.
Going back a few years earlier, what happens during that 2006 season if Wisconsin doesn't win the national championship? What if Brian Elliott doesn't play out of his mind vs. Cornell? What if one of those shots off the posts goes a quarter of an inch the other way and the Badgers are sent home?
Something to think about.
Regardless, this four-year recruiting cycle is not healthy. I can't be the only one who thinks that. This is the third trip through the cycle and the Wisconsin coaching staff has done absolutely nothing to rectify the issue. The numbers are painfully obvious. There's a reason why Wisconsin hockey has been relegated to a second-rate program, and it's because they choose to only be good once every four years.
Now we're right back into the bottom of the cycle, with 2017-18 the next season Wisconsin is expected to field a team competitive enough to compete nationally.
Wake me up in three years when the Badgers plan to be competitive again.
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