With only four games in the books, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team has managed to post a .500 record, going 2-2-0 in that span. The Badgers split a series with Northern Michigan in Green Bay before coming home and knocking off the 6th-ranked Boston College Eagles 3-1 and ultimately splitting that series too. Before the Badgers take on the United States Under-18 Team, let’s assign grades at every position so far this season.
The Badgers return 13 out of 14 forwards from last season, three of which eclipsed the 10-goal mark. All but one forward scored at least one goal last season. Luke Kunin, named captain for the 2016/17 season, lead the team with 19 goals last season and returns this year alongside last year’s scoring leader Grant Besse (11G, 22A). With another year of experience under their belts, these two look to be a dangerous duo heading into this season.
So far this season scoring has come from familiar faces. All of the Badger’s top five scorers from last year have already scored at least one goal in this year’s campaign. Seamus Malone, Grant Besse and Ryan Wagner each have two goals apiece, Malone adding four assists to tie for the team lead in points. Luke Kunin and Cameron Hughes each have one goal, including a highlight reel between the legs goal by Hughes. The Badgers have also added scoring talent in freshman Trent Frederic, who has scored two goals to go along with his four assists to lead the team in the first four games. He was named Big Ten’s second star of the week after scoring four points in two games against Boston College.
The forwards in total have scored 12 goals thus far, averaging 3 per game. That is 0.74 more than the 2.26 per 60 minutes last year.
The Badgers graduated two of their top four defensemen from last year, but return their top two scoring defensemen in Jake Linhart (8G, 10A) and Tim Davison (5G, 9A). Through four games this season Linhart has already dished three assists, and Davison leads the team with five assists. Both are on track to shatter their point totals from a year ago. In addition to those two, coach Tony Granato has converted former forward Corbin McGuire to defense. After only registering four points last year, McGuire has risen to the occasion in his new role, scoring three goals in his first two games. He was named Big Ten’s third star of the week after the first weekend of play. Granato described McGuire as, “A passionate energetic guy that you could tell him to go play goalie and he’d do it.” The Badgers have also added talent with 6’5″ freshmen JD Greenway, who has already scored a goal and registered his first multi-point game with two assists against Northern Michigan.
After averaging only 0.4 goals and 1.2 assists per game last year, the defense has scored four goals in four games this year, and added 11 assists thus far (2.75 assists per game). The only spot the defense has looked weak overall is in their plus/minus. Davison, Tischke and Linhart are -4, -4 and -3 respectively. JD Greenway is the only defenseman with a positive plus/minus and ties for the team lead with a +2. Last year the team was -34 overall in goal differential, losing each game by an average of one goal. So far this year they have only given up one more goal to opponents than they have scored themselves. The Badgers are on track to give up under 9 more goals than they will score, but definitely have the talent to outscore their opponents.
Wisconsin goalies have made a habit of letting in lots of goals. Matt Jurusik has started every game this year, and has let in an average of 4.23 goals per game. Granato described Jurusik as “an elite goaltender,” but aside from a dazzling performance in the first game against Boston College, Jurusik has looked shaky. His save percentage is at .856, a big step down from his .892 a year ago. He has posted a record of 2-2-0 thus far, only allowing three goals per game in his two wins. Granato has faith that Jurusik will be the guy for the Badgers, and he has shown flashes of brilliance in the early going. We will have to wait and see if Jurusik can work his way up to consistency and become an “elite goaltender” as the season progresses.
If one thing has been consistent for the Badgers this season, it has been power play opportunities. The Badgers get an average of 7.5 power plays per game, and have scored an impressive eight goals in 30 attempts. Six different players have scored for the Badgers on the power play, including two goals apiece from Trent Frederic and Will Johnson. This power play unit looks to be a dangerous one this year.
The penalty kill has been equally as impressive, if not more so. The Badgers have committed 23 penalties this year, and have shut the door on their opponent 21 times. Led by Cameron Hughes, who notably had two huge blocks in the first BC game, the penalty kill stresses getting in shooting lanes and giving up the body to block shots. The Badger penalty kill has been able to stop their opponent more than 90% of the time due to their unselfish play.
The University of Wisconsin brought in a new coaching staff this year, including Wisconsin alum and former NHL coach Tony Granato. Granato brought with him an experienced coaching staff, who hope to bring the Badgers back into the top of the ranks in the NCAA. So far this season, Granato has made the adjustments needed to win games. After dropping the season opener to Northern Michigan, the Badgers fought back and won a 6-5 thriller in their second meeting. Granato talked a lot about composure as one of the things to work on before facing a talented Boston College Eagles team. In the first game against the Eagles, the Badgers looked completely calm and composed, while handily winning the game 3-1. The Badgers went on to lose 8-5 to the Eagles two days later, but if Granato can get the team to bounce back with two wins for every loss, it is going to be a successful season for Wisconsin Hockey.
Overall Team Grade: A-