Preseason Top 16: #11 Wisconsin
Despite having the best player in college hockey last year the Badgers struggled all season. Sure they were young, and have virtually everyone back, but they also weren't very good and when they were it wasn't for very long, with only two winning streaks longer than two games. They didn't have many extended losing streaks either but a five gamer combined with an inability to play well for long periods of time doomed them to a 10th place finish in the WCHA.
It was the best of times….
The Badgers put together a four game winning streak late in the season with two wins over Bemidji State sandwiched between a win over Denver and a win over Minnesota. The Badgers allowed just 7 goals in the four games, their best four game stretch of the year and in stark contrast to….
It was the worst of times…
Wisconsin's five game losing streak that preceded the aforementioned winning streak featured sweeps at the hands of North Dakota and St. Cloud State, and the Badgers allowed 19 goals in those games, including twice allowing 5 goals in a game.
The Coach - Mike Eaves (Wisconsin '78)
Eaves, who played with George Gwozdecky on Wisconsin's 1977 national championship team, had a brief professional career that culminated with him coming out of retirement during the 1986 playoffs with the Flames, who lost in the Cup Finals. Eaves' coaching career has taken him far and wide, with him assisting at St. Cloud, and professionally with the Flyers and Penguins. He was also the head coach for the Hershey Bears and in Finland with HIFK. With Wisconsin Eaves led the Badgers to the 2006 national championship and won WJC gold with the United States in 2004.
Notable Current NHL Alumni
Players to watch
With every forward who scored a goal last year back on campus, the Badgers certainly have a shot to challenge for a top 3 spot in the league. The leader up front is no doubt Mark Zengerle, who led the Badgers with 50 points and whose 1.29 ppg in conference play ranked tied for 5th in the WCHA. He is also the leading returning in that category. He drew some free agent interest from NHL teams but opted for another year in Madison, and perhaps his turn as Wisconsin's Hobey hopeful.
Seeing as every forward who scored is back, it is a little tough to discern who else to highlight, just as it is a disservice to the Badger forwards to just say "all of them." But in truth they all should take turns getting significant attention from the media (and opposing defenses) this season. One guy to highlight is definitely Michael Mersch. He starred with the NTDP and after scoring 8 goals in 41 games in his Freshman season he scored 14 goals in 37 games last year with the Badgers.
On defense the Badgers will probably struggle to replace the offensive production of Justin Schultz, but with John Ramage back to captain the squad for another year they will still have a rock on the blueline. Ramage had only 10 points for the Badgers last year but his strength lies in his ability to stay calm under pressure, use his body well and consistently make the smart pass.
The headliner is obviously Nic Kerdiles. The 2012 second rounder (Anaheim) has produced at every level and should step right in to Wisconsin's top 6. He has a lot of speed and good size at 6'2", 190 lbs and already looks like he will be a very good two way player in college. He should score a lot of goals in Madison, which probably will overshadow the work he'll do at the other end of the ice, but he will be an absolute star.
The other forward joining Kerdiles is Morgan Zulinick, who scored 24 goals last year with Salmon Arm (BCHL). He is more known for his skating and playmaking on offense.
Defensively the guy I really like is Eddie Wittchow. Playing for Waterloo of the USHL he led his team in +/- for much of the year and did it based off playing extremely well in his own zone. He skates well and has great size, and (though this is a bit of a lazy comparison) should be the next John Ramage.
Non conference series to watch:
Wisconsin welcomes Penn State to Madison on February 24th and 25th. Penn State doesn't figure to be any good this season, so it will be more of a warmup for the Badgers before their final two conference series of the year but ti will still be a good look at the newest D1 hockey program.
Wisconsin didn't win a lot of games last year, but they didn't lose a lot of games against teams that they 'should' have beaten either. With a ton of scoring back as well as the additions of perhaps the best recruit in the class the Badgers should make significant strides up the WCHA standings. If they can get some consistent goaltending the Badgers should be in the top 4 in the WCHA and perhaps even a Frozen Four threat.