It’s happening. The revival we didn’t see coming.
For 15 years, paying attention to the Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey program this early in the season would’ve felt like a waste of time. That includes my time in school in Madison from 2015-2019 when the men’s hockey team’s collective record was 56-71-18.
Less than six years removed from a National Championship Final appearance in 2010, Wisconsin had three Big Ten conference wins and they fired head coach Mike Eaves and hired Tony Granato to revive Wisconsin’s sleeping giant. Seven mostly dreadful seasons later, Granato was let go and we were supposed to be in a full rebuild mode for the second time in less than a decade.
I played hockey for 15 years of my life and turning on Fox Sports North/Wisconsin on a Friday night before a weekend full of playing youth hockey was a regular occasion in my house growing up.
I’ll never forget the Badgers 2005-2006 season. I was 9 years old and my idols were Joe Pavelski, Brian Elliot, Andy Brandt, Adam Burish, Davis Drewiske, and Robbie Earl. That team was at the center of the world for me and a lot of other young hockey fans around the state. But since then, the program has largely been irrelevant.
And yes, I know they made it to the national title game national title appearance in 2010. They also have had two Hobey Baker winners in Blake Geoffrion (2010) and Cole Caufield (2021). They even won the WCHA tournament in 2012-2013 and the Big Ten tournament in 2013-2014. But, they only won the regular season conference title once in the last 20 years and that was 2020-2021. For a program with a rich history, it has struggled to sustain any sort of success. It’s been hard to pay attention and sad to follow the trend.
But, they only won the regular season conference title once in the last 20 years and that was 2020-2021. For a program with a rich history, it has struggled to sustain any sort of success. It’s been hard to pay attention and sad to follow the trend.
It’s never made much sense to me as to why this program hasn’t found a way to sustain success in the last two decades. Isn’t it fair to say that Wisconsin has some of the best facilities in the country for a Hockey program? Between the Kohl Center and LaBahn arena, I’m not sure there is a better duo in the country.
It’s also NOT that Wisconsin doesn’t have a pool of hockey talent to pull from. It’s not as deep as a state like Minnesota but Wisconsin isn’t having to compete for in-state prospects with five other programs like teams in Minnesota. So what was the issue here? Was the right coach really the missing ingredient to revive the program?
Enter Mike Hastings.
My first text after I heard about Hastings being hired was to a buddy who knows a lot about Minnesota hockey. I asked him what his thoughts were. His response: “Really, really good hire. Great track record of recruiting and coaching.”
His record at Minensota state is proof of that. 299-109-25. Compare that to Mike Eaves, 231-169-51 and Tony Granato 105-129-16. Chris McIntosh had made his best hire as Athletic Director and no one even knew it at the time.
And now we arrive here. I didn’t notice any hype for this season. Did anyone else? It was quiet and none of us were paying attention. There was no reason to think that this year would be any different than the last handful of years. This program was supposed to be undergoing a rebuild?
Well, teams that start 9-1 with six straight wins against ranked opponents typically aren’t rebuilding. Rebuilding teams also don’t go from unranked to No. 3 in less than three weeks. What’s happening to this program isn’t just a nice surprise. It’s a shock.
I waited a few weeks to speak up on what I was seeing. It wasn’t a fluke that this squad swept No. 1 Minnesota in Minneapolis two weekends ago. They were dominant. It also wasn’t a fluke that they swept No. 4 Michigan in Madison last weekend. Mike Hastings is reviving the program. And Badger fans shouldn’t wait any longer to get back to the Kohl Center to be a part of the revival.
Wisconsin Hockey is back and they look like they may be one of the best teams in the country this year. All aboard. It’s time to pay attention. The revival is here.
Next Opponent: At Michigan State next Friday and Saturday (6:30pm) on BTN+.