Men’s hockey: Badgers begin new era behind Tony Granato

first_imgAfter a disappointing 8-19-8 (3-13-4, Big Ten) finish last year for University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, new head coach Tony Granato will make his debut during Saturday night’s matchup against the University of Victoria.Historically, the program has been one of the best in college hockey, with 16 conference titles and six NCAA championships. In the last two seasons, however, the Badgers failed to even reach the 10 win mark.“We have a hungry team that’s been energized,” Granato told reporters Monday. “They’ve been waiting a long time for this game. The practices have been exciting, and they’re chopping at the bit to play someone else.”The downfall in the traditionally-dominant Wisconsin program led to the firing of 14-year head coach Mike Eaves, who led the Badgers to a NCAA championship in 2006.Granato said the process has been about building the team back up.“We saw a fragile bunch of guys who had their heads down and not sure of where the program was going and where their future was,” Granato said.Despite obstacles in rebuilding, the coaching staff remains confident in the current roster. New assistant Don Granato and associate head coach Mark Osiecki have been working with the young group to rebuild the perception of the Badgers on the national stage.This year’s group returns four early NHL draft picks and ten returning upperclassmen, a promising sign for any developing team.Goldsobel: Jurusik and Kunin named top NHL draft prospects, but need to prove worthWisconsin men’s hockey is not what it once was. It seems so long ago that they were one of the NCAA’s Read…“You look at what the NHL did with the draft and just the four guys that were drafted,” Granato said. “We have two first rounders, and two other guys that were drafted in the third and fourth round that are really gifted players.”One of the first-round picks, sophomore captain Luke Kunin, comes back to Madison after a monster freshman campaign. In only his first season at Wisconsin, Kunin led the team with 19 goals and 32 total points. Nine of those 19 goals came in just the last 10 games.With three years left in college, Kunin and the coaching staff are confident that he can lead them back into a dangerous offense that finished last in the Big Ten a season ago.“The skill part doesn’t mean anything to me, it’s the work ethic,” Kunin said. “It’s the heart. It’s the commitment to the program.”While the Badgers return plenty of their scoring talent from a year ago, questions continue to revolve around the defense and, more specifically, the status of sophomore goalie Matt Jurusik.Jurusik began last year as one of the most dominant goalies in the country, but leveled off down the stretch in conference play. The competition in front of the net has heated up over the offseason and generated plenty of conversation.“Competition is always a good thing,” Granato said. “[Matt] has worked extremely hard over the summer. He’s a great competitor. He wants to be on the ice, and he wants to be in the net for all of the games, but we’re going to give these other guys a chance early in the season.”Following a coaching change and an off-season of work, the Badgers eye their first exhibition game against the Thunder Saturday as a nice test to begin the year. The competition should give coaches and fans a good gauge as to where the team stands going into another tough season.“When you come to the University of Wisconsin as a hockey player, you come in and expect to compete for national championships,” Granato said. “You expect to win.”last_img read more