The message was clear from head coach Tony Granato after the Badgers blew a third-period lead against Ohio State last week.
“Defensively, we can be better. Offensively, we have be better. We can’t play that long in our zone,” Granato said. “I just think their team was hungrier tonight.”
His team responded in a big way in Game 2 of the series. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead while tallying 25 shots on goal, the Badgers fought hard down the stretch to finish the game with a 3-2 win. It was a truly scrappy performance for Wisconsin as they drew four penalties, blocked 13 shots and were aggressive on the penalty kill. The Badgers was also the more physical team on the forecheck. They had the Buckeyes trapped in their defensive zone for long stretches of the game.
Wisconsin was just the hungrier team.
As they head into a non-conference game with No. 13 Boston College (1-0, 0-0 HE) on Friday night the No. 10 Badgers (2-1, 1-1 B1G) will need to maintain their aggressive style of play to be successful.
Boston College took a serious hit offensively coming into the 2017-18 season, losing their top five scorers from last year. Due to their lack of immediate scoring talent the Golden Eagles appear to have changed their offensive-minded game plan from the last couple of seasons. Instead of trying to win high-scoring affairs, they’re now looking for grind-em-out defensive battles. This was evident in their first game of the season as they fought hard to tie the score at 1-1 late in the third period against No. 14 Quinnipiac.
The Eagles should benefit from excellent goaltending this season as sophomore Joe Woll hopes to pick up right where he left off last year. During his freshman campaign, Woll posted a .913 save percentage en route to recording 17 wins. If the Badgers are to take down the Golden Eagles they’ll have to do so by putting tons of pressure on Woll and the rest of the BC defense.
On Saturday night, Wisconsin will travel 40 miles north from Boston to take on the Merrimack Warriors (0-0-1, 0-0 HE).
The Warriors are coming off of a disappointing 2-2 season opener against Colgate. After jumping out to an early 2-0 lead, Merrimack couldn’t hold off Colgate’s comeback to eventually tie in overtime. The Warriors drastically outplayed their opponent, yet couldn’t find that elusive third goal to put them away.
Although Granato has been preaching physical play early on this season, the Badgers must be careful while playing a Merrimack team that drew nine penalties in their opener. Last weekend Wisconsin was guilty of 11 infractions over the course of the two-game series. In the season opener against Michigan Tech they committed four penalties, allowing the Huskies to convert on two of their power plays. Merrimack figures to be a much easier matchup than Boston College, but the Badgers must be careful not to dish out any unnecessary power plays.
Nobody knows the importance of non-conference games more than Tony Granato. In his first season as the Wisconsin head coach, the Badgers missed the NCAA tournament by the smallest of margins. While their Big Ten resume was solid, non-conference losses to teams such as Northern Michigan haunted them down the stretch. Winning both of this weekend’s game could prove essential come tournament time.
“Last year when we played BC and we played teams that were ranked ahead of us, we used that as a measuring stick and something that we used as an inspiration to say ‘okay, let’s see where we are against the big boys,’” head coach Tony Granato said. “I think we’re one of the big boys now.”
The puck drops in Boston at 6 p.m. CT on Friday night, and in North Andover, Mass. at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday.