If you did not catch the Wisconsin men’s hockey team in action over the last two weeks, allow me to recap.

The Badgers suffered a beat-down of epic proportions at the hands of rival Minnesota in a series on January 22nd and 23rd. The Gophers took game one on Friday night by a score of 4-0 in front of an energized crowd of 11,000. On Saturday night, with the Badgers seeking revenge, Minnesota scored just twelve seconds into the game en route to a 9-2 drubbing, and a road sweep of their biggest rivals.

As well as they played that weekend (and they did, admittedly, play impressive hockey), the Golden Gophers were not the story. The story was a Badger hockey team that looked flat-out under-prepared. With the opportunity to take points from a team atop the B1G standings, and a chance to beat a hated rival on home ice, the Badgers simply were not up to the task. And as the goals continued to pile up on Saturday night, the question on everyone’s mind was this: What has happened to this proud program, and where does it go from here?

Last week, the Badgers took care of business against Alaska, as is expected when facing a team at the bottom of their conference standings. UW took Friday night’s contest 4-3, and Saturday night’s 5-2, thanks in large part to the work of freshmen forwards Luke Kunin and Matthew Freytag. But even after a sweep, questions remain about the Badgers’ ability to get the wins that matter most: against teams with winning records, and with key points on the line.

The writer in me wants to chalk this roller-coaster season up to the Badgers being a young team struggling with injuries, that hasn’t quite figured out how to win. The potential is clearly there: UW has a quality win against North Dakota, and has played well against strong opponents such as Michigan and Penn State.

As head coach Mike Eaves put it in his press conference after the team’s blowout loss to Minnesota in game two of their series, “Being around sports long enough, you’re going to have nights like this. It’s disappointing, but they happen.”

But the fan in me is tired, frankly, of making excuses and waiting around for some of Coach Eaves’s oft-referenced “puck luck”. At what point does someone get held accountable for what has transpired within this program?

In 2006, just after both the men’s and women’s programs won national championships, there was no one in America who would fault a person for proclaiming Wisconsin the best hockey school in the country. But since then, we have seen two different storylines.

The women have followed up their national title with nearly a decade of dominance, thanks to strong recruiting and phenomenal coaching by Badger legend and 1980 Olympic hero Mark Johnson. Currently, Johnson’s team is ranked #2 in the nation with only one loss season with a 28-1-1 overall record.

The men, on the other hand, have struggled to find consistency. They have made one return trip to the national title (a 2010 drubbing at the hands of Boston College), won the WCHA tournament in 2013, and won the first ever B1G hockey tournament in 2014.  UW has made the national playoffs just four times since 2006, and the lack of NCAA tournament progress for the Badgers is not up to par for a program that ranks fourth all-time with six national titles.

Then there was last season. A painful 4-26-5 year in which UW did not record its first non-losing result until late November, and saw attendance and overall passion for Badger hockey drop across the board. It didn’t take long for fans to begin calling for a change at the head coaching position, but Barry Alvarez stood by Eaves, electing instead to make sweeping change among the ranks of the assistant coaches instead. But is standing with Mike Eaves the right call for this program?

Look, I understand that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a hockey team. It takes, a commitment to recruiting, a system that the players and coaches can buy into and learn quickly, and support from the school and the community. The Badgers under Eaves have relied upon recruiting a couple of NHL-bound guys, and hoping that they can carry the team through the gauntlet that B1G hockey has become. The system seems to have changed very little from last season to this one, despite the turnover of assistant coaches, and community support and patience appears to be at an all-time low. It is certainly difficult to find fault in fans that want to see changes made in the name of a return to the glory days of Badger hockey.

The improvement that UW has shown from last season to this one is encouraging when looked at closely. They have shown an ability to hang around in games that they might have been blown out of last season, thanks to solid goaltending and timely scoring at the end of periods. But when talking about a program as rich in tradition as Wisconsin Hockey, it is hard to justify incremental improvements and moral victories while simultaneously wallowing at the bottom of the B1G standings.

This program has a winning tradition, and fans expect to see the team compete at a high-level every year. Until Coach Eaves shows that he can circle the wagons and find some consistency, his future will continue to be unclear. As the Badgers’ B1G title dreams begin to cool, the head-coaching seat is heating up fast.

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Men’s Hockey.