Tony Granato's first season back in college hockey provided the University of Wisconsin coach with a harsh reality in the mechanisms of NCAA tournament selection.
In short, it was this: Every game matters.
When the Badgers were left out of the 2017 NCAA field, they could accurately point at one or two losses that, had the outcome been different, would have given them an at-large spot.
While Granato said he thought his first UW team as head coach deserved a bid, the formula that considers a variety of factors in selecting the teams disagreed.
The takeaway that Granato has brought into this season is that there's little room to tinker with things in game situations in October because the results will matter in March.
"There's no such thing as experimental games. These are games we have to win," Granato said after Sunday's season-opening 3-2 victory over Michigan Tech at the Kohl Center.
"That was our approach. Especially after the second period: 'Boys, we've got to bear down. They don't get anything this period because these are meaningful games. ... All the way to the end of the season, it goes in your rankings.'"
The Badgers did get to the finish line on Sunday, killing off 104 seconds of a Michigan Tech extra-attacker situation by turning to veterans.
Jake Linhart and Peter Tischke — the top defensive pair from last season — were sent onto the ice together for the final stretch after being matched with freshmen for most of the game.
That might be an indication of a different mindset from the coaches this season, partially because they have more knowledge of the players than they did last year.
"We will shorten the bench probably in different situations in non-conference games, whereas last year we were trying to see if certain guys could play a more important role at times," Granato said.
A year ago, a season-opening loss to non-conference foe Northern Michigan was one of the results that contributed toward UW's failure to be high enough in the PairWise Rankings to make the NCAA tournament.
This weekend, the Badgers play another team that struck a critical blow in those hopes when No. 19 Ohio State visits the Kohl Center on Friday and Saturday.
The Buckeyes swept UW in the final regular-season series last season. Change one of those Badgers losses to a victory, and they would have made the tournament, even with the loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Conference title game.
In the rankings
UW climbed one spot to 10th in Monday's USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Division I men's poll. There was no USCHO.com poll because only three regular-season games were played over the weekend. UW was ranked 12th in the preseason USCHO poll.