Group hug! Hockey Badgers celebrate.
The Wisconsin hockey team's sweep of eighth-ranked Michigan last weekend could prove just the tonic to end the quiet that's blanketed the program in the past month, and for that matter the last few years.
The Badger men's 5-2 and 3-1 victories over Red Berenson's Wolverines marked the first significant series of the season at the Kohl Center and finally gave fans a baseline for evaluating the team, which had spent previous weeks hosting glorified skate-arounds against some of the worst squads in college hockey -- Alabama-Huntsville, Colorado College and Penn State.
The sweep also gave the Badgers a four-game league winning streak as they moved into the meat of the Big 10's inaugural season as a hockey conference. UW was considered the favorite to win the league after graduating from the WCHA, but the season began with some unpromising signs. The Badgers were massacred in Boston back in mid-October, first by Boston College (9-2) and then by Boston U. (7-3). Their Big 10 opening series a month later at Minnesota was more competitive, but in the end the Badgers were swept again.
An impressive pair of wins was overdue. The crowd Saturday night was the largest for hockey in almost four seasons; before Michigan, UW hadn't swept a Top 10 opponent at home in two years. (Remember that Division I hockey has 59 teams, so a Top 10 ranking is slightly easier to achieve than in football.)
Simply stated, the program has been in a rut lately. Since winning the national championship in 2006, the Badgers have qualified for the NCAA tournament in only three of the past seven years. UW made the tourney last March for the first time in three seasons and was promptly blasted out of the first round by U. Mass.-Lowell.
The Badgers end their two-month home stand Jan. 24-25 against Ohio State. We'll see whether they can keep the momentum going.