Although ultimately unsuccessful in their campaign to receive a bid for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team finds it difficult to view this season as anything other than a success. Following the worst two-year stretch in program history in terms of winning percentage, the Badgers bounced almost fully back by claiming second place in the Big Ten Conference’s regular season and post season standings.
“This year’s group gave us the foundation and everything they had to get us back to respectability,” said first year head coach Tony Granato.
Coach Granato’s first year was marked by development and overachievement. The team was unranked coming into the campaign, and saw their ranking nearly reach the top 10 by the time the season was over, barely missing out on the NCAA Tournament by one notch in the rankings.
The team’s unexpected success was bolstered by the equally unforeseen stellar play of freshman goaltender Jack Berry, who relieved an injured Matt Jurusik of his duties in early November. Granato reflected on Berry’s gritty performance this year by stating that, during the year, Berry went from being a “complete wildcard” to “a jackpot.”
The team was led by sophomore Captain Luke Kunin, who was only the second sophomore to be given the position in program history.
“I think it was a great turn in the right direction for our program,” Kunin said, “and we’re looking to keep building off this and keep climbing in the right direction.” Unfortunately, Captain Kunin recently signed an entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild, which means he will be leaving school to play professionally.
Seniors Corbin McGuire, Grant Besse, Aidan Cavallini, and Jedd Soleway will also be leaving the team. With the addition of Kunin to the list, the Badgers will lose five role players including their captain. The loss of these players definitely leaves question marks in terms of lines and roster decisions, but Granato mentioned that although “there may be some hard decisions in front of us,” the atmosphere around the team remains generally positive.
The 2016-2017 season marked the third-best improvement in terms of wins from the previous year in program history. Although unable to reach the NCAA Tournament, Granato stated that the team was disappointed, but ultimately realized what their efforts had done for the reputation of the program as a whole. Coach Granato summarized the end of the season succinctly.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not in the tournament and that we don’t have a chance to play, to get to Chicago. Are we disappointed in how we played in finishing second in the Big Ten in both the playoffs and regular season? Not one bit. We’re really, really proud.”