Last season, Wisconsin had one losing streak — two games. The last two games, in fact.
The 2000-2001 Badgers are in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
Yes, a lot of things have changed in little time in Madison, Wis. One of them is the evaporation of the sense of invincibility — that feeling from a year ago that they were going to be in every game, no matter how they played.
The Badgers are being forced to work for every shot, every goal, every win this season. It started in the first week and doesn’t appear ready to stop any time in the near future.
But does the five-game skid have any chance of subsiding soon? The Badgers, as with everything else, will have to work for it.
It’s almost puzzling to see the night-and-day transition between the Badgers that won their first seven games of the year — not all of them pretty, mind you — and the team of the last two-plus weeks.
“It’s the same team that won seven in a row to start with,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said, but what’s changed? Is it the determination? Is it the coaching? Is it the offense? Is it the defense? Is it the goaltending? Is it the schedule?
Wait … we may have a winner there.
The Badgers racked up their first six wins of the season against relatively inferior WCHA opponents Michigan Tech and Minnesota State-Mankato, and against UMass-Amherst, which probably won’t be confused this year with a team competing for the Hockey East title.
Wisconsin did get a key victory over Boston College in a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup, but the closest the Badgers have come to the number one since has been on the power play, where they are 1-for-29 in the last five games.
The loss to Northeastern started the Badgers on a slippery slope down the USCHO.com rankings. From No. 1 to No. 12 in a matter of three weeks.
In that time, Wisconsin fell to Minnesota on the road and Alaska-Anchorage at home. That leads us to now, and a feeling of anxiety in the Badgers’ locker room.
“I hope it’s not something that’s going to linger,” Sauer said. “The guys have worked hard, they’ve continued to work hard in practice and they know what has to be done. It’s not like we have to beat it into their heads every night. The important thing is we continue to get that work ethic and good things will happen.”
But work ethic alone isn’t enough. They need goals. Some on the power play would help.
After starting the season 11-for-52 in the first seven games, the Wisconsin power play, as noted before, has seen the bottom drop out.
“Here’s the point: Both nights this weekend, if we score a couple goals [on the power play] it’s a different story,” Sauer said, referring to 5-3 and 3-2 losses to Anchorage. “The point is, the power play has got a lot to do with not scoring a lot of goals.”
So what’s the story at even strength? A top team shouldn’t have to rely on its power play to do the scoring, and Sauer knows why his offense hasn’t been able to produce as it once did.
“The biggest thing is not moving the puck quick enough,” Sauer said. “The other teams are forcing Dany Heatley. We get the puck in the other guys’ hands, we’ve got to move the puck quicker and take advantage of what they’re giving us and we haven’t done a good job of that on the power play the last couple of games.”
The road, as is common in the WCHA this season, gets no easier for the Badgers. Colorado College is at the Kohl Center this weekend before the College Hockey Showcase, with Michigan on Thanksgiving night and Michigan State next Sunday.
“We’ve got eight games to play before Christmas and the big thing for us is we have to establish ourselves again,” Sauer said. “Whether it’s against CC, Michigan or Minnesota, whoever, we just have to worry about us and go out and play.
“CC’s a pretty good team, but you can see what’s happening around the country: A lot of people are beating a lot of people, and that’s just going to continue.”
There’s plenty of reason to be down on the Badgers right now. They’ve lost four WCHA games midway through November where they lost five all of last season.
But a big response this weekend would put them back where they need to be.
“I’m not discouraged at all,” Sauer said. “I’m disappointed in what we’ve done, but we’ve only played eight WCHA games; we’ve got 20 to play. Hopefully we can get ourselves back untracked here.”
Welcome Back, Part 1
What a whirlwind of events for Mike Sertich and Michigan Tech in the last week and change.
Try to follow along:
So now, everything’s back to normal, right? Well, Sertich is back in Houghton, reportedly staying with friend and Tech Athletics Director Rick Yeo until he can find a place of his own.
You call that normal?
Sertich was appreciative of his welcome from the fans in Duluth.
“There was a very warm reception from the fans,” Sertich told the Duluth News-Tribune. “I didn’t expect as much, but maybe I should have. The people here have always been good to me.”
But things aren’t exactly perfect just yet in Tech. When Matt Ulwelling scored in overtime on Friday, Sertich wasn’t sure how to react.
“When the game was over, I was looking for someone to hug,” Sertich told the News-Tribune, “but I don’t know anyone on the team well enough to hug, so we shook hands.”
A strange set of circumstances, indeed.
The Job Search
While we’re on the topic of Michigan Tech, there hasn’t been a flood of speculation as to who the next full-time coach will be.
Maybe it’s because Sertich has the job for the season and the position won’t open up for at least another four months. Yeo said Sertich would even be considered as a full-time replacement for Watters after the season ends if he’s interested and things go well.
But the Tech job is a dangerous one, especially for someone looking to break in as a Division I head coach. Remember that Tech is predominantly a Division II school, meaning the resources there are not along the same lines as Wisconsin or Minnesota. That means recruiting is tougher.
Plus, Houghton gets approximately 6,000 inches of snow each winter, and winter lasts roughly from September to June.
All joking aside, this job could be a tough sell.
Welcome Back, Part 2
You can’t help but think Scott Sandelin would want his return to North Dakota to be under better circumstances.
How about this: The Minnesota-Duluth coach brings his 8-0, nationally ranked team into Ralph Engelstad Arena for his first game against mentor and North Dakota coach Dean Blais.
Sure. Now wake up.
In reality, the Bulldogs are 1-7, have led in only the one game they won, against Michigan Tech last Saturday and are still searching for some offense.
That won’t make this weekend any less special for Sandelin, who spent six years as an assistant with the Sioux, winning two national championships.
But don’t think for a minute he wouldn’t love to follow his first collegiate victory (last Saturday vs. Michigan Tech) by showing his former boss what he learned.
What Does It All Mean?
Does anyone want to be No. 1? Does anyone want to be the frontrunner in the WCHA?
Apparently not. Not, at least, until it matters.
Still, despite getting only one point out of a series at North Dakota, Minnesota has joined Colorado College as the top team in the league. That, of course, is due to the Tigers’ sweep at the hands of St. Cloud, which, despite being in sixth place, is in a pretty good position.
Confused? Let’s try to get some answers here.
The key problem with looking at the standings by points right now is that the teams have played anywhere from four to 10 conference games. But by ranking the teams by the average number of points each has earned per game, we can see the true ranking of the teams as it stands right now.
Colorado College and Minnesota are at the top at 1.5 points per game, but they are joined by sixth-place St. Cloud State. North Dakota (1.375) comes in fourth; Alaska-Anchorage (1.25) is in fifth; Wisconsin (1.0) is in sixth; Minnesota State-Mankato (0.8) is in seventh; Denver (0.667) is in eighth; Michigan Tech (0.4) is ninth; and Minnesota-Duluth (0.333) is last.
The significant jumps come from the teams that have played only four games — St. Cloud and Anchorage. The Seawolves, 2-1-1 and seventh in the league standings with five points, are averaging more than a point a game. The Huskies, like the leaders, are on pace to win three of every four games this season.
But that’s all through four games for each team. St. Cloud has a home-and-home series with Minnesota to contend with this weekend. Anchorage stayed in the Midwest this week and plays at Mankato. The Seawolves then host North Dakota and Denver before traveling to St. Cloud to close out the calendar year.
And for the relative struggle North Dakota had at the start of the year, the Sioux are still in a pretty good position. Don’t count them out for a second.
Higher And Higher
St. Cloud State’s ranking at No. 6 in this week’s USCHO.com poll is the school’s highest ever. (We just won’t mention that other poll, which has the Huskies at No. 5, therefore making that the highest ranking for the program.)
On the heels of a statement-making sweep of Colorado College on the road last weekend, it’s another statement for the Huskies’ program.
But what does it mean? Not much to coach Craig Dahl.
“Those polls mean absolutely nothing,” he told the St. Cloud Times. “Those things take care of themselves if you do your job. Right now we realize that [ranking] is going to be like a bullseye on our back. It’s only going to make people want to beat you all the more. But it brings a responsibility with it that we want, and that’s to be the best and play the best.”
He Said It
“I’m in shock right now. It’s unbelievable. I haven’t felt this in my college career. And now that we’ve tasted it, we want more.”
— Alaska-Anchorage sophomore defenseman Matt Shasby, on the Seawolves’ sweep of Wisconsin.
News And Views
On The Docket
All 10 WCHA teams are in league series this weekend, including a home-and-home duel between Minnesota and St. Cloud State.
The Colorado College-Wisconsin series means plenty, and not just in the standings. CC, still tied for first in the WCHA, and Wisconsin, a ways back in the pack, each need a win to get back in business.
And don’t forget about Alaska-Anchorage, staying in Minnesota this week and hoping to bottle the performance they got in sweeping Wisconsin last weekend. The Seawolves play at Minnesota State-Mankato.