MADISON, Wis. – When a program has as many preseason expectations placed upon it from the outside world and eternally, a staff has two options in which to handle it: embrace the expectations or disregard them.
Considering that during one of the first team meetings that Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves carried in with him the school’s sixth and final national championship trophy from 2006, placed it on the table and told his veteran-laden team that this is what they were shooting for, it’s evident that the Badgers have chosen the former instead of the latter.
“It showed us that was the end goal,” said junior defenseman Jake McCabe. “And that we shouldn’t settle for anything less.”
The No. 3 team in the country set the tone from the opening faceoff, scoring three goals in the first period and never looked back in a 5-2 season-opening victory over Northern Michigan Friday at the KohlCenter.
“We’ve said it since day one here – we always want a great start,” said Eaves. “The statistics say that 68 percent of all teams that score first win games, so you want to put those percentages in your favor so having a getting that start tonight was a good thing.”
It was a stark change from last season for the Badgers, who stated off 1-7-2 and didn’t win their first home game until the month of December in part because of youth, injuries and then-freshman forward Nic Kerdiles being suspended the first 10 games of the season because of amateurism violations.
That’s not the case this season, as Wisconsin returns 91 of their 112 goals (81.3 percent), 239 of their 303 points (78.9 percent) and 16 upperclassmen from last year’s WCHA tournament-winning team.
The last time the Badgers had that many veterans, they finished second to Boston College in the 2010 national finals.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that Wisconsin scored an even-strength, shorthanded and power-play goal before the first period expired.
“I think Coach said it best, ‘We need to establish the fastball’ and that’s what we did,” said Kerdiles, who extended his point streak to 13 games with two assists. “We went out there and got the puck deep and got after the defenders and just pounded the puck. Being aggressive like that scared them a little bit, I think, and put them on their heels and turned into a lot of chances for us.”
Junior goalie Landon Peterson made 18 saves (13 of which came on the power play) and the Badgers scored five goals from five different sources in winning their first season opener since 2007.
A lot has changed since Northern Michigan and Wisconsin opened last season up at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis. The Badgers have gone from a WCHA club with a lot of youth to the preseason pick to win the Big Ten in its inaugural season.
The Wildcats have made a change, too, returning to the WCHA after spending the last 13 years in the now-defunct CCHA. Like the Badgers, the Wildcats return a lot of experience (their average age of 22 years, 129 days make them the fourth oldest team in college hockey this season) and are looking to do much better than the 15-19-4 results of last season.
But Northern Michigan didn’t make a very good second impression without top returning scorer Reed Seckel out with an injury, being outshot by 18 and going 2-for-9 on the power play.
“We did not have a lot of guys play very well, in my opinion,” said Wildcats coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we were nervous. Our upperclassmen have to have better composure than to let it go away like that.”