The Wisconsin Badgers underachieved in the 2011-12 season, but, coming into the new campaign that begins this month, they are a team that prognosticators shouldn’t sleep on.
Yes, last season was one to forget for UW, which finished 17-18-2 overall and 11-15-2 in the WCHA, good for 10th place in the league. There’s no escaping those numbers, no matter how much fans would like to.
The 2012-13 slate will be the Badgers’ final campaign in the WCHA before Big Ten play beings a year from now, however, and head coach Mike Eaves will be keen to make sure his team leaves a lasting impression on the league from which it’s departing.
UW does have plenty of talent returning for the 2012-13 season, and the Badgers will be led up front by junior forward Mark Zengerle. Zengerle led the Badgers in scoring in his second season in Madison, Wis., putting together 13 goals and 37 assists.
Just as Wisconsin is many pundits’ sleeper pick to finish high in the WCHA standings this season, Zengerle is being looked at as one of the favorites to win league player of the year honors. Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad was the league media and coaches’ pick as preseason POTY, but Zengerle finished second in that category in both polls.
Fellow junior forwards Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes will also be expected to serve as leaders up front. Mersch (14 G, 16 A) and Barnes (11 G, 15 A) proved themselves essential last season on a UW team that only finished eighth in the WCHA in scoring offense, and they will need to produce again this time around.
UW will miss Justin Schultz, the Badgers’ leading defenseman last season with 16 goals and 28 assists, but they remain reasonably deep on the blue line. Senior John Ramage (3 G, 7 A) will serve as captain in his final season in Madison, and sophomore Jake McCabe (3 G, 9 A) and junior Frankie Simonelli (5 G, 14 A) should also provide good cover.
In goal, sophomore Joel Rumpel (2.48 goals against average and .919 save percentage in 2011-12) will look to build upon last season’s promising start to his collegiate career. Rumpel won as many games as he lost last season (12), however, and sophomore understudy Landon Peterson (3.02 GAA, .896 SV%) will be prepared to take over if need be.
Last season was painful for UW fans, and Eaves’s Badgers didn’t live up to their own standards. Most of their weapons from the previous campaign return, though, and this year’s Wisconsin team will be eager to build momentum through the course of this season and into the start of Big Ten play 12 months from now.
Head coach: Mike Eaves (North Dakota ’78)
2011-12 record: 17-18-2 (11-15-2 WCHA)
Predicted WCHA finish in 2012-13: 4th
Home ice: Kohl Center; Madison, Wis.
-Average attendance in 2011-12: 11,773