(This post is part of a fundraiser for the ACLU and SPLC, two great causes that need our help in these, umm, trying political times. For a donation of $50 or more on Giving Tuesday, readers got me to write about whatever they wanted. So I wrote the nonsense below, which was requested by Ken Walters.)
When people think Wisconsin Hockey the first thing that probably comes to mind is Good Program. That hasn’t been the case the past few years.
Under Mike Eaves, they lost in the national title game in 2009, then missed the NCAA tournament two years straight. But then hey, they’re Wisconsin, so they made it through two straight league titles in 2013 and ’14. And then disaster.
And if you looked close enough, you could see the cracks developing a while before that. Losing recruiting battles here and there doesn’t always show up in the results — at least not for bigger-name programs — until it’s five years later and you have four wins at the end of the season, as the Badgers did in 2014-15, and you’re like, “What the hell just happened?” Wisconsin’s brass didn’t really see it coming, so they gave Eaves another shot. He doubled his win total, but that’s still only eight, which sucks and got him canned.
To deal with the problem Wisconsin did what big-name programs always do: They threw money at it. Tony Granato is the coach now. His brother Don is an assistant alongside Mark Osiecki and Jeff Sanger. And maybe that was all the team needed: A new voice in the room, a new face of the franchise. Certainly, that’s reflected in the recruiting they’ve done since coming aboard this summer; they’re back to killing it, which is what Wisconsin should do.
It also seems to have translated in terms of wins and losses. The Badgers already have eight wins in 16 games, which is better than their eight in 35 they had last year. By a pretty good amount, actually. Like, mathematically speaking.
Not that eight right now is good or anything. It’s fine. But what’s interesting is how they’re getting to those wins. This isn’t a particularly talented team, especially as you work your way down the lineup. The high-end guys they have can play. It’s Wisconsin. Of course they can. But this team had a 49.7 CF% last season, which was obviously in the lower half of college hockey. This year it’s 58.2 percent.
So what’s happening here seems to be that the Badgers are now getting better coaching and even if the talent still isn’t there, when you’re up around 58 percent it really doesn’t matter. You’re going to win a lot almost no matter how bad your goalies are. And folks, at .858 for the season — I am dead f’n serious that’s the real number — Wisconsin’s goalies are absolute garbage. I don’t care if every shot they face is right in the slot and they’re screened out on all of them, you’d have at least stop 87 percent of the shots you face even by accident. It’s like they’re trying not to make saves. Amazing.
So frankly the fact that they’re even close to .500 with sub-.860 goaltending tells you an awful lot about how much their process has improved. Those Granato guys know what they’re doing, apparently.
Once they start attracting actual good players again — or hell, like one good goalie — they’re gonna start winning a whole lot of games. Which they should. It’s Wisconsin.