Last season was an utter disaster for the Wisconsin Badgers menâ€™s hockey program, but goaltending wasnâ€™t exactly among them. The numbers could suggest otherwise, but Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson were far from the biggest problems facing the Badgers.
However, entering the 2015-16 season the Badgers wonâ€™t have the services of either of those two veteran netminders. It wasnâ€™t going to be a big deal as one of the best young goaltenders in North American hockey had committed to the Badgers. Luke Opilka, a former member of the US U-18 developmental team was going to answer any questions and likely upgrade the production at goaltender for the Badgers.
That appears to have all fallen by the wayside though, as radio play-by-play man Brian Posick is reporting Opilka will not even make it to campus this fall.
Multiple sources have confirmed 2015 recruit goaltender Luke Opilka @Lopi917 will not play @BadgerMHockey #stlblues #ohl
— Brian Posick (@brian_posick) July 1, 2015
Opilka was drafted by his hometown team, the St. Louis Blues at last weekâ€™s NHL Draft. However, he was a 5th round selection â€” an area that usually indicates the NHL team would like to see you head to college or stay in junior hockey for a bit longer.
It appears that the Blues may have indicated they wanted Opilka to sharpen his game in the OHL versus college hockey first (a practice not too uncommon from NHL teams).
A few weeks back I was told Luke Opilka was telling NHL teams he was open to playing in the OHL if that's where they wanted him to be.
— Andy Johnson (@AndyJohnsonB5Q) July 1, 2015
It leaves a Badgers team looking to repair a damaged, disappointing and down in the dumps roster and reputation as of late. Opilka was a key component for head coach Mike Eavesâ€™ quick turnaround plans, but it appears that wonâ€™t be happening anymore.
The Badgers are hurt at a position they canâ€™t afford to be hurt at, especially with two veteran netminders gone. Without Opilka, the Badgers hockey program is left with redshirt senior Adam Miller and redshirt sophomore Gabe Grunwald.
Between the two there is exactly one game of goaltending experience at the collegiate level. That came from Miller, who went on in relief of Landon Peterson in the 2013-14 season. He stopped 24 of 27 shots in relief for a goals against average of 4.71 and a save percentage of .889.
Opilka is also the only goaltender the Badgers had committed in the 2015-16 class and have none currently committed for either of the next two recruiting classes as of now. With his decision to go the OHL route, the Badgers will have to hit the recruiting trail hard for future years to find a top-notch goaltender.
As for this season, things are wide open at the goaltender position and given the shaky defense and youth of this program in front of the goaltenders thatâ€™s not exactly the ideal situation. Can Miller of Grunwald be the answer?
It will be tough to tell, but given the fact that both were brought on to fill out roster spots more than compete for starting minutes in their careers it will be the No. 1 thing to watch in fall camp leading up to the 2015-16 season.