The Wisconsin men's hockey program has won six national titles, the most recent of which came in 2006. That title run was set up nicely for Wisconsin with two regional games in Green Bay and the Frozen Four in Milwaukee, all well attended by a fan base hungry for a taste of hockey glory they hadn't experienced since 1990.
The 2013 Badgers, who played their way into the 16-team NCAA tournament field by impressively winning the WCHA tournament last weekend, aren't nearly so fortunate. They'll travel to Manchester, N.H., on Friday to face the River Hawks of UMass-Lowell, with the winner advancing to play either WCHA nemesis Denver or hometown favorite New Hampshire on Saturday. The Frozen Four will be played in Pittsburgh on April 11 and 13.
There were plenty of empty seats at the Kohl Center for the opening round of the conference playoffs a couple weeks ago - attendance was just over 8,000 - and the guy sitting next to me for the Friday night game against Minnesota-Duluth wondered aloud why this team hasn't generated more excitement. His gray hair betrayed him as someone who remembers when hockey games at the Dane County Coliseum were raucous affairs and tickets were hard to come by.
With consistently excellent basketball and football programs, the hockey Badgers have a hard time grabbing the spotlight these days, particularly when they start their season with a 1-7-2 record. But thanks to an early exit from the NCAA tournament by the men's hoops squad and with baseball's opener still a few days away, Wisconsin's skaters have the weekend to themselves and could attract a lot of attention, along with some optimism for next year, with a win or two.