History suggests it would be foolish to get all panicky in light of the latest outings by the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
Two unsightly non-conference losses last weekend — 9-2 at seventh-ranked Boston College on Friday and 7-3 at 15th-rated Boston University on Saturday — sent UW plummeting in the national polls while raising the hackles of fans who heard throughout the preseason that an NCAA title contender was in their midst.
Not surprisingly, the Badgers (2-2 overall) fell from second to 11th in both the U.S. College Hockey Online and USA Hockey Magazine rankings.
A bye week is on tap for UW coach Mike Eaves and his players, who will use it to try to purge the worst defensive showing in nearly 25 years while preparing for a non-conference series with Lake Superior State Nov. 1 and 2 at the Kohl Center.
The most recent time the Badgers allowed 16 goals in one weekend series was Nov. 17-18, 1989. They lost a Western Collegiate Hockey Association opener at Northern Michigan 11-5 before escaping with a 6-5 victory in overtime the following night.
UW turned out to be pretty good that season. It finished 36-9-1 overall and swept the WCHA regular-season and playoff titles before rolling to the fifth NCAA championship in school history.
Looking back, all six national championship clubs for UW have had moments of ugliness and/or genuine concern.
The 1973 outfit opened the season with a 10-6 loss to Colorado College and was later routed 7-1 by Michigan Tech.
The ’77 squad began the season with a 7-6 setback to Michigan, while the ’81 team allowed 14 goals in back-to-back defeats at Minnesota and famously yielded 11 in a playoff loss to Colorado College.
The 1983 club, meanwhile, endured a 9-8 loss to Minnesota and was outscored 15-5 in four winless meetings with North Dakota during the regular season.
In addition to allowing 16 goals in that Northern Michigan series, the ’90 squad allowed nine or more goals three times in a three-week period.
Meanwhile, the run-up to the 2006 national title included a late 3-7-1 stretch that ended with a resounding series sweep at Minnesota State-Mankato (7-3 and 6-4).
Eaves said he didn’t see this as a defining moment because the Badgers are only three weeks into a season that could span six months.
“We felt coming in that we were a pretty good team,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I think going out there (to Boston) and having things happen as they did was a little bit of a reality check.
“The guys, they’ve come back this week and worked their fannies off. They’ve responded well.”
The trip to Boston saw the Badgers lose a battle of wills, especially in the opener when BC wreaked all sorts of havoc with its speed and transition game.
“Two different styles of hockey,” UW senior center Keegan Meuer said. “They’re playing (against) our system. They’re trying to chip (the puck) behind us and use their speed to go long on us. We’re trying to possess the puck and play more of a possession passing game.
“It’s two conflicting styles and unfortunately, this time, they outperformed us.”
It didn’t help the overall psyche of the Badgers that junior goaltender Joel Rumpel didn’t make the trip after suffering an ankle injury in practice. Eaves said he hopes to get Rumpel, who has 55 career starts, a .924 save ratio and seven shutouts, on the ice to test the leg later this week.
Junior Landon Peterson started both nights in Boston. He played well with precious little help in the opener, but struggled against BU, a game Eaves said his club played well enough to win.
Eaves emphasized that there’s no panic in the ranks, a point emphasized by Meuer.
“The whole weekend we responded,” he said. “Nobody ever quit. Everybody kept playing their hardest to the very end.”