In a land of puck discontent, the Badgers stand truly alone.
Where other schools out West yearn about past ideals and mascots now gone, Wisconsin is the only one whose lamenting lately for the good ol' days deals with its present team. The Badgers, sporting a 7-17-8 record, right now had as many drafted players leave the team in July (two) as Big Ten wins. While other young, struggling teams have improved in the second half of the season, team success and giving any hope for fans have still eluded Wisconsin.
Upsetting Penn State this past weekend is reaching a point where beating the Nittany Lions at home like PSU did to a heavily favored Wisconsin three seasons ago seems like a big deal.
It's been a rough year on the isthmus to say the least for young Wisconsin, featuring 21 underclassmen, as the team heads west to Minneapolis against the Gophers in last place for the second straight year.
10,000 words could be written on that statement alone. (At this point they almost have over the past two seasons. If you read one, check out the recent profile by Todd Milewski of the Cap Times.) This article could be half that total and still miss points. Each piece of evidence adds on to the next like a never-ending Power Point presentation.
Simply put, Wisconsin has reached a point where the problem is that everything needs to be fixed. The team's stats are near the bottom of college hockey, wins are few, moral victories are waning, local media attention is almost non-existent, and fans are somewhere between accepting apathy and calling en masse for head coach Mike Eaves to be fired.
Outside of an upset win over then-#1 North Dakota, it's hard to find things to cheer. Two of the seven wins are against first-year Arizona State. The only victories of 2016 besides last weekend came against an Alaska team that finished in eighth place in the WCHA.
The fans inside Kohl Center remember glory days not too long gone. Ar least the ones there still.
In reality, it's sobering to see the number of red seats in photos tweeted out at puck drop against old rivals and Big Ten teams AD Barry Alvarez was a proponent of playing. Any faster of a free fall and the Badgers would be hitting terminal velocity.
Underway at the Kohl Center. pic.twitter.com/KytW7aBANW— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) February 20, 2016
I always shoot the south end to get the student section, but this is the north side tonight. pic.twitter.com/VlGfAhR2GR— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) February 20, 2016
On the ice the players still cared, disappointed as anyone in the regular season after losing against its biggest rival. The team admirably hasn't quit. It's easy to point out flaws over solutions, but there is a group trying to find what is holding the team back.
On the ice remains elite talent. There were 10-15 NHL scouts disappointed that Luke Kunin, a potential 2016 first round pick who leads the Badgers in goals with 16, missed a game. Sophomore Ryan Wagner is the only other player with double digit goals and Grant Besse continues to be a bright spot. Freshman Matt Jurusik, the youngest full-time goalie in college hockey, is coming into own having faced more shots than any other Big Ten goalie.
Even this past week the Badgers picked up a verbal commitment from one of the top U-17 defensemen in the country.
It would be better if Kunin was not an exception. Of the three big names in a rebound recruiting class brought in this year to beef up the Badgers, he's the only one on the roster. 2015 first round pick Brock Boeser is lighting it up for North Dakota and Luke Opilka went to the OHL when he was already on campus.
Jack Dougherty, Christian Dvorak, Keegan Ford and Morgan Zulinick could also be on this year's team before joining the fans leaving or decommitting. (It's hard to think how much worse the season would have gone if the rumors that Kunin was joining this list by leaving the program in November turned out to be true.)
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate