COLUMBUS, Ohio — There was no finger pointing or assignment of blame as the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team gathered for a players-only meeting last Saturday morning.
There was, however, a sense of urgency in delivering a message about the team identifying its identity and figuring out what it has to do to win games.
The Badgers were sitting on a three-game losing streak when some of the team’s upperclassman minority called everyone together between games of a series against Minnesota at the Kohl Center.
Clearly, it was not sitting well.
“We were (ticked) off,” senior alternate captain Seamus Malone said of the hours after the Badgers lost 3-2 to their rivals.
“We lost a game that we thought we could have won and that we should have won. That’s not the first time that’s happened this season, and I think some of us just looked at it as a thing that we just needed to reset before we go any further, before anything bad happens, before we’re too far in the hole.”
The Badgers won 3-1 that night, but they weren’t rushing to connect the dots between the meeting and the result. Still, players hope the message delivered isn’t something that needs to be repeated.
They’ll see if that’s the case when they open the first of two straight Big Ten Conference road series Friday night at No. 6 Ohio State.
Dating to last season, the Badgers have lost eight straight Friday games away from home and 14 of the last 16 series openers regardless of venue.
Last Friday’s was enough to prompt a meeting, but that’s not the kind of button they can push every week and still have the season move in a positive direction.
And, the way senior captain Peter Tischke described it, the frustration that led to the discussion wasn’t because of one game. It had been building but came to a head when the Badgers gave up three goals in 74 seconds to fall behind Minnesota last Friday.
“It was about the whole year,” he said. “We got swept the weekend before against North Dakota. And then we were playing well and then gave up that little 1:15 where we lulled a little bit and just sat back and watched. We just addressed the fact that you have to play a full 60 minutes and you’ve got to be ready for every shift.”
The tone was positive but serious, as players described it. Accountability was stressed.
“We realized that we can’t ease off in any situation,” freshman goaltender Daniel Lebedeff said. “And we have to take care of our other guys, too. If someone makes a mistake over and over again, we have to let the guy know to try to get better and refocus.”
The Saturday morning meeting hasn’t been the only time a message has been sent to Badgers players in the last few weeks. Coach Tony Granato has been vocal on the practice ice in trying to get the team moving together.
He credited Tischke and Malone for getting the team focused again after a tough loss. Then Granato had to put himself in that position during the week.
“What we’re doing isn’t for tomorrow or yesterday,” he said. “What we’re doing is building for the future. You could call it culture, you could just say the way it is around here. It’s a certain way that we have to be every day. We can’t take a day off. We can’t think one or two guys can do it a different way.”
A challenging schedule continues for the Badgers with consecutive road series against the Buckeyes and Michigan, both teams coming off Frozen Four appearances last season.
It’s the first of three back-to-back Big Ten road trips this season. In 2019, the Badgers will go to Minnesota and then Michigan State, with a road swing at Notre Dame and Penn State later.
Only Minnesota, with a pair of consecutive league road weekends on its schedule, has more than one among the other six Big Ten teams.
With five teams ranked in the top 20, the Big Ten schedule is a parade of tests. A quirk in how the series are laid out just adds to the challenge for the Badgers.
“It doesn’t matter where we are,” Tischke said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, the circumstances. We remain the hunters. So I think that’s going to be a major thing, just not really focus on where we’re playing or who we’re playing but just focus on our game.”