Sconnie Sports Talk

October 12: This Week in Wisconsin Men’s Hockey


Weekend Recap   

The opening weekend of the Badger men’s hockey season has come to a close, and what a wild weekend it was. With come from behind efforts in both games, including erasing a three-goal deficit in under three minutes on Saturday night, yielded two ties for the Badgers (0-0-2) against Northern Michigan (0-0-2).

While both Friday and Saturday’s games resulted in ties, the Badgers took two distinctly different routes to get there. Friday night’s matchup saw UW come out of the gate hot, peppering NMU’s Atte Tolvanen early and often as they jumped out to a 1-0 lead through two periods. After surrendering two goals in quick succession in the third period, Grant Besse responded with a goal in the game’s final minute to secure the tie. On Saturday, the Badgers never led despite outshooting NMU in the first two periods, and trailed by three goals midway through the final frame. A powerplay goal by Ryan Wagner with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game started things off, and 49 seconds later Jedd Soleway pulled the Badgers within one. Shortly after, on a 5-on-3 advantage, freshman Luke Kunin scored the game’s final goal, securing the series’ second tie.

While a pair of ties at home to open up the season certainly wasn’t the Badgers’ goal coming into this weekend, it would be unfair to call this series a failure for UW. In two comeback performances, the Badgers showed a grit and determination that was lacking at times last season. Instead of folding under the weight of long odds on Saturday night, the team battled back, eliminating a three-goal deficit for the first time since 2013. Additionally, the offense kept NMU goaltender Atte Tolvanen on his toes, putting 27 shots on goal on Friday, and an outrageous 44 shots on goal on Saturday en route to a five-goal weekend. Finally, it bears remembering that it took until a November 28th tie against Ferris State for the Badgers to record anything but a loss on the schedule last season. Marks in the tie column may not be reason for celebration, but this weekend’s result is certainly better than a series loss to start the year.

Three Stars of the Weekend

Third Star: Adam Miller impressed in his first career start on Friday, tallying 32 saves on 34 NMU shots on goal. The only two goals he surrendered came following defensive zone turnovers by the Badgers, which forced him to attempt to stop shots coming from just outside the crease, with little time to react. Miller seemed calm and in control all night, even after Northern Michigan took the lead in the third period, as he responded by buckling down and making a huge save on NMU’s only overtime opportunity.

Second Star: Grant Besse’s performance this weekend showed why players like freshman Seamus Malone mentioned him as one of this team’s leaders on the ice. Held in check for much of the game on Friday, it was Besse who scored the clutch goal with 42 seconds remaining to save the tie for the Badgers. On Saturday, he assisted Luke Kunin on the 5-on-3 advantage to tie the game again late in the third period. Leaders step up in big moments, and Besse twice answered the bell when his team needed him.

First Star: Luke Kunin may be one of the most exciting freshmen in the Big Ten this season, and he’s already making his mark for the Badgers. Friday night saw Kunin not only blocking shots out between the top of the circles and the blue line, but also chasing the pucks down to force scrambling stops by Tolvanen on the other end. While his last-second effort to push the puck across the line was negated by a pre-shot whistle, it still showed a level of on-ice awareness and determination that should excite fans. On Saturday, it was Kunin who converted on a 5-on-3 opportunity to complete the comeback for the Badgers. There’s no denying the talent, but the hustle and knack for being in the right place at the right time is what makes Luke Kunin such an exciting prospect.

This Week

The Badgers head east for matchups with #1 Boston College and #2 Boston University. While upset victories on the road against two of the nation’s premier programs is a lot to ask, this weekend will be a great opportunity to see how a young UW team responds to the bright lights of college hockey at its highest level.