By: WSUM Sports Team
There was plenty of intrigue surrounding the University of Wisconsin‘s men’s hockey team after the offseason they had. They brought in a new head coach in Mike Hastings and a lot of talent from the portal and in the recruiting class.
However, people tempered expectations. After all, how could a coach turn around a program that, aside from one or two seasons, has been so bad in the last decade in one year?
That restraint might be out the window now. The Badgers (5-1-0), USCHO’s 14th-ranked team, are off to their best start in 19 years, and they have a number next to their name for the first time since the opening week of the 2021-22 season. The border battle, starting tonight, will be their biggest litmus test of the season: a clash with the top-ranked team in the nation in the Minnesota Golden Gophers. A good showing this weekend may cause Badgers fans to throw all caution into the wind and be all-in on a year one turnaround.
On the other hand, the Wisconsin women’s hockey came into the beginning of their season with the target on their backs. The defending national champions have backed up that distinction so far, off to an undefeated 8-0-0 start. Their 66 goals scored to this point are more than double the team with the second-most goals (Rensselaer, 32).
However, in the most recent series against Bemidji State, superstar defender Caroline Harvey went down with an injury. She missed the second game of the series against the Beavers and it is thought that she will miss at least another couple weeks.
So, what does the WSUM Sports Team make of the starts by each team this year? Could Madison finally be home to two contending hockey teams once again? Or does it all come crashing down for the men this weekend against Minnesota? Find out in the second roundtable from WSUM Sports this week.
Wisconsin men’s hockey is off to their best start since the 2004-05 season. What is your reaction to that?
Very encouraging. It obviously doesn’t get much easier from here, but being able to win these early games is a great sign for the start of the Hastings era. The returners, freshmen and transfers have all had phenomenal starts against some quality opponents. -Joey Bonadonna
Mike Hastings is the truth. That is the response. -David Giardino
Exciting, to say the least. Hastings is a great coach, and you can tell that he is going to make the team way better. He had a lot of success at Minnesota State, and I believe him bringing that success here is a great thing to look forward to in the new era of Badger men’s hockey. -Camryn Fjelstad
I’m very surprised that the start has been this strong. It’s been a while since Wisconsin has started this strong to a season, and it’s even more impressive considering it’s a new coach’s first year. The only loss was a competitive game against a top-10 opponent, and a strong series sweep of Michigan Tech is a solid addition to their early season resume. -Peter Sellwood
My interest is piqued. That’s what Mike Hastings’ job was to me in year one. Making the NCAA Tournament would be amazing, but this fanbase has been drained by the last bit of bad play and the Kohl Center has been staggeringly empty throughout the past few years. Getting people interested again is paramount. And hey, 5-1-0 with wins over Bemidji State and Michigan Tech, plus also arguably outplaying North Dakota in their barn in the only loss of the year? That will certainly play. Wisconsin is ranked for the first time since 2021. I’m excited. -Anthony Winker
How do you think men’s hockey will fare against Minnesota this weekend?
I can see them salvaging a split. Minnesota is very talented, but they are vulnerable in a lot of areas. If you can find a way to get multiple goals in a hurry on this team, you can find yourself in a winnable game. -Joey Bonadonna
I am hoping for a split but I also know that it is a little bit of a long shot. Minnesota is the best team in the country in my opinion so a split with them would certainly propel the Badgers into the top-10. -David Giardino
I think the men’s hockey team has a decent shot at splitting the two game set in Minneapolis this weekend, although I would be unsurprised if they got swept like recent seasons. -Peter Sellwood
I think they will have a good shot at splitting if they keep playing the way they are. They just need to keep their offensive game aggressive and get some goals early and they should be good. -Camryn Fjelstad
I think the key to this game will revolve around the net. If Wisconsin can put the puck in the net more than Minnesota, I think that will help their chances of winning. However, if Minnesota is able to score more points, the Gophers could take this one. -Vincent Hesprich
I think the Badgers can at least get a split this weekend. Minnesota lost a lot of talent from last season and are still figuring out some things on the back end, kind of similar to the Badgers. But UW is playing some good hockey right now, and they remember how badly they’ve gotten embarrassed at Mariucci the last two seasons. They won’t let that happen again. Plus, an added bonus is that the arena is a normal size now! Wisconsin gets a win in Minneapolis for the first time since Cole Caufield donned the cardinal and white. -Anthony Winker
Wisconsin women’s hockey remains on top at No. 1. What do you think about the start of their season?
The offense has been unbelievable. It’s hard to compare them to anyone across the country because of how phenomenal their production has been. Caroline Harvey’s injury is unfortunate but I’m not incredibly concerned. There is enough talent on the rest of this roster to be a national contender. -Joey Bonadonna
Expected dominance but also a little bit of sadness. I mean this team has been absolutely unbelievable so far this year but the Caroline Harvey injury is not great for the Badgers. I fully expect this team to rebound from this and still have enough to contend for a title this year. -David Giardino
This is what the expectation was for the team, and so far they are playing at the level that they should be. This is exactly what you should expect a team coming off of a national championship to look like. -Peter Sellwood
They are playing very well. Some injuries are unfortunate, but with that being said, with a young starting lineup they are very skilled and endured. You can see that they are going to be a sure contender to win another national championship this season if they keep playing how they are. -Camryn Fjelstad
Clarkson has the third most goals in the nation with 28. Rensselaer has the second most with 32. Wisconsin has 66. -Vincent Hesprich
Well, you certainly can’t ask for anything more can you? As Vince pointed out, the offense has been ridiculous, more than DOUBLING the team with the second-most goals in the nation. That is bonkers. However, I just have one request: let’s get healthy please! Depth, not the quality of player kind but actual bodies, is starting to become an issue. Caroline Harvey is obviously the big one, but hopefully she’s back by the time UW is back home (Dec 2-3). But the forward group is getting real thin. Claire Enright and Bella Vasseur have yet to suit up for the Badgers this year and Maddi Wheeler was forced to miss some time as well. UW has yet to dress more than 10 forwards for a game, forcing them to use Katie Kotlowski and Sophie Helgeson as forwards just to fill out four full forward lines. That’s a slight concern, and it might show more once the competition starts to stiffen up. -Anthony Winker
Bonus: What are your predictions for the men’s and women’s team standings in conference (Men – Big Ten, Women – WCHA)?
Starting with the women, I still expect them to win the WCHA. It’s a good conference at the top (the best in the country good) but they are good enough to win it even if they’re without Harvey long-term. The men get a little more dicey. The Big Ten is a much deeper conference than what the WCHA is for the women. However, they can’t get worse than last and I doubt they will finish last again this year. They’re much better than Notre Dame and I think they can prove they’re better than Ohio State and Penn State. Minnesota, Michigan and Michigan State will be tough to catch. -Joey Bonadonna
As far as the women are concerned the expectation is going to be playing in the National Championship game until they prove otherwise. Like I said before, the Harvey injury isn’t great for them, but they are still incredibly talented. For the men I honestly am not sure. I think that this team can finish in the top half of the Big Ten which would be an unbelievable first year for them. -David Giardino
The women’s team should carry their momentum from last season’s championship and this season’s blazing start to a first place finish in the WCHA. The men’s team plays in a competitive Big Ten conference where in previous years, a .500 record in the conference could land you in the upper middle echelon of teams. If the men’s team can keep their current pace against competitive teams into Big Ten play, I could see a third place finish being completely reasonable. -Peter Sellwood
The Women’s Hockey team is going to win the WCHA championship if they keep playing how they are. They just need to keep the momentum and have the team stay healthy and they should be fine. Men’s hockey on the other hand may not win the Big Ten Championship, but they will for sure finish higher in the conference than they did in the past few years. Hastings can lead this team into a deep run in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournament, but it being his first year is unclear if it will be for sure. -Camryn Fjelstad
If Harvey comes back before the Minnesota series December 8-9, Wisconsin wins the WCHA. They are the defending champions for a reason. If Harvey misses more time than that though, I’m not so sure. The defense for UW without her, combined with the inexperience between the pipes concerns me a little bit to the point where I could see UW finishing third in the conference. But, hey, they finished third last year and we all know how that finished. As for the men, I think they finish fourth in the Big Ten and get to host Big Ten quarterfinal playoff hockey at the Kohl Center this season. The Big Ten has a clear top two in Minnesota and Michigan, but I think UW is right in the mix in that second tier of teams. It will be close, but I think they can pull off a top-four seed. -Anthony Winker
Contributors: Joey Bonadonna, Camryn Fjelstad, Peter Sellwood, David Giardino, Vincent Hesprich, Anthony Winker.