Wisconsin hockey expects tough schedule to pay off for young team

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. It’s part of the reason Big Ten coaches picked Wisconsin to finish third in their preseason poll.

That happens when you’ve also got one of the youngest teams in the Big Ten too. However, this is also Wisconsin hockey we’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 Badgers’ 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.

“We decided as a staff that we wanted a more challenging schedule because the only way you get better is much like that chemistry term osmosis, you get drawn up to a higher level,” said Eaves at Big Ten Hockey Media Day. “You’re playing better teams, you get drawn up to that level of play, so it was a conscious decision to do that.”

However, despite the questions about who is going to step up, one player who isn’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 — speed and diversity of skills.

It’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 in direct correlation to how quickly our kids learn the pace and the speed of the game and catch on to what we as a coaching staff ask them to do as a group,” Eaves said.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge. It 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. We’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.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com