Losing your top five scorers in one offseason has a way of making people wonder just how good a program can be the following season. Itâ€™s part of the reason Big Ten coaches picked Wisconsin to finish third in their preseason poll.
That happens when youâ€™ve also got one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten too. However, this is also Wisconsin hockey weâ€™re talking about and that means the Badgers will reload, not rebuild.
Helping in that rebuilding mode will be 13 freshmen (11 true freshmen and two redshirt freshmen), who are headlined by forwards Matt Ustaski and Adam Rockwood along with defenders Jack Dougherty and Jake Linhart.
One look at the Badgersâ€™ schedule and it also becomes apparent that a very young team is going to have to grow up fast. Games against old WCHA rivals North Dakota, Colorado College and Denver are going to test the mettle of a young group of players.
Head coach Mike Eaves took at look at the schedule and decided it was exactly what this youthful team needed.
“WeÂ decided as a staff that we wanted a moreÂ challenging schedule because the only way youÂ get better is much like that chemistry termÂ osmosis, you get drawn up to a higher level,” said Eaves at Big Ten Hockey Media Day. “Youâ€™re playing better teams, you get drawn up toÂ that level of play, so it was a conscious decision toÂ do that.”
However, despite the questions about who is going to step up, one player who isnâ€™t as worried as some on the outside are is senior goalkeeper Joel Rumpel. Instead, he sees this team has having a strength that some of the older, more wiser teams may not â€” speed and diversity of skills.
Itâ€™s ironic that Rumpel mentioned speed, because Eaves sees the speed at which the youngsters pick up the UW way of hockey as the key to success or failure in 2014-15.
“Our ability to be competitive will be inÂ direct correlation to how quickly our kids learn theÂ pace and the speed of the game and catch on toÂ what we as a coaching staff ask them to do as aÂ group,” Eaves said.
“Weâ€™re looking forward to the challenge. ItÂ should be a lot of fun.”
Despite the clear unknowns of just who this team is or will become, the coaching staff and veteran players see reason for optimism. Weâ€™ll know if that optimism was well placed as the youngsters learn on the fly and forge into 2015 having been tested in a big way.