After an offseason of change that saw two new assistant coaches, a new Director of Hockey Operations, and 10 new freshmen join the program, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team is ready to begin anew and try to put the bitter memories from last season’s four-win campaign behind it.
That journey begins this weekend when the Badgers host Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center for a two-game set to open the season.
"We don’t talk about (last season)," head coach Mike Eaves said. "The focus is on what we’re doing this year and the types of things we want to put into place, systems-wise."
Wisconsin comes into 2015-16 with a youth-laden roster that includes 23 underclassmen. As you would expect with an inexperienced group, there have been plenty of bumps in the road during preseason preparations, but Eaves sees plenty of potential—calling this year’s UW squad a "faster" team with "more depth of skill" compared to last season.
"There are moments of brilliance and moments where we hang our head a bit and say, ‘oh boy back to the drawing board,’" he said. "There are a lot of moving parts right now, but we do see those moments of brilliance and that’s a good thing."
One of the parts that needs to be solved is the Badgers' three-way goaltending battle between senior Adam Miller, redshirt freshman Gabe Grunwald, and freshman Matt Jurusik. The coaching staff said they have seen good things from all three and a decision on who starts against the Wildcats will be made after practice on Thursday.
"Like so many decisions that are made in sports or in life, you have to make a gut call," Eaves said.
It won’t matter much who is in goal, though, if the Badgers can’t find the back of the net. Wisconsin averaged under two goals per game (1.69) last season, but is hoping the addition of a pair of high-scoring freshmen will help in that category.
Rookie forwards Luke Kunin and Seamus Malone will be thrown into the fire and Eaves is hoping to see immediate contributions. Malone scored 55 goals and 131 points over a three-year career with the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, while Kunin is coming off a 37-goal, 56-point season with the U.S. National U-18 Team and U.S. National Team Development Program—which included games against NCAA competition.
Kunin also played in the 2015 USA Hockey All-American Prospects game, registering two goals and an assist.
"Those two young men come in with a history of (scoring)," Eaves said of Kunin and Malone. "Both guys have offensive flair, they’re gritty, and they do a lot of good things. We’re hoping they can step in right away."
The Badgers have faced Northern Michigan in non-conference play each of the last four seasons and are 3-5-0 in those contests. The Wildcats swept Wisconsin, winning 2-0 and 4-1, in Green Bay, Wis., last year.
The puck drops on UW’s 2015-16 season this Friday and Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m. (CT).
UPDATE (Oct. 8): Andy Baggot of UWBadgers.com has the Badgers' forward lines for this weekend's series:
Besse - Malone - Rockwood
Kunin - Hughes - Soleway
Freytag - Wagner - Ford
Cavallini - Ustaski - McGuire
Wisconsin also announced that Miller will start in goal on Friday night.