EAST LANSING, Mich. — As anticipated, Trent Frederic is among the top goal-scorers for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
He’s also frustrated by the scoring that hasn’t materialized for him and his teammates.
“I’m not really that happy with what I’ve done the first 11 games,” said Frederic, UW’s top-line center who shares the team lead with five goals and 10 points.
He has company in a group of players who have shown potential for high-level offensive production but haven’t seen the payoff often enough for their liking.
“I think a lot of us know we have a lot more in us,” said Seamus Malone, who centers the second line.
That’s the backdrop for the seventh-ranked Badgers as they return to Big Ten Conference play against Michigan State today and Saturday.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this hand-wringing over scoring is just a result of the top two lines not recording a goal last weekend against North Dakota.
It goes beyond that, players and coaches said, and it goes beyond what’s happening in the offensive zone.
Breakdowns in the defensive zone have extended the amount of time the Badgers have had to play there before they recover the puck. Once they do have the puck, they’ve often spent their shift defending and go to the bench to change lines instead of racing toward the other team’s goal.
“I think that’s where we really need to improve,” Malone said of the defensive zone. “The better we are there, the more we have the puck in the (offensive) zone, the more chances we’ll get and the more offense we’ll create.”
Badgers forwards are instructed to be quick in getting back toward their goal when the other team has the puck, playing support roles for defensemen and limiting the opponent’s possession time.
“If you see us a little bit on video, we lack that, tracking the puck back into our own end,” associate head coach Mark Strobel said. “And now we get cycled a few shifts or they’re looking like they’re on the power play because we didn’t hustle back to get set into where we wanted to be to kill the play quick enough.”
As for what’s happening — or not — at the other end of the ice, it’s hard to consider the current situation a drought when you compare it to what some members of this UW team have experienced in college.
The Badgers are 14th nationally with an average of 3.27 goals per game, a far cry from the 56th ranking and 1.69 average of 2014-15.
They’ve already reached the four-goal mark in more games this season (five) than in all of 2014-15 (four), when this year’s seniors were starting with UW.
The three forwards who have been listed on one of the top two lines all season — sophomore Frederic and seniors Ryan Wagner and Cameron Hughes — have statistics that are better or at least similar to what they’ve produced through 11 games in previous seasons.
“We’re holding ourselves to a higher standard,” said Hughes, the Badgers captain who has three goals and six points. A year ago at this point, he had two goals and nine points.
“We’re expecting a lot of ourselves,” Hughes said, “and maybe at times getting a little ahead of ourselves.”
In a loss and tie against North Dakota last weekend where its four goals came from the third and fourth lines, UW struggled in getting second chances from quality scoring areas, associate head coach Mark Osiecki said.
He said the team’s top forwards, many of whom also carry a leadership role with the team, have to better channel the responsibilities they face.
“They can’t have the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Osiecki said. “I think that drains them. I think it certainly drains them the next night on back-to-back games.
“They don’t have to carry the team. They just have to do their part. I think once they realize that, I think their game is going to follow suit.”
For only the fourth time in a 41-game collegiate career, Frederic was held without a shot on goal last Saturday. He wasn’t credited with a shot attempt in the third period or overtime.
The answers for why things have slowed weren’t easy in coming to the first-round NHL draft pick. He has drawn a level of defensive marking that fits his pedigree, and it hasn’t been easy for him to find his way through.
“Sometimes I feel like the puck’s coming to me, and sometimes you’ve got to work harder to get opportunities,” Frederic said. “So far, I guess it’s not really coming easily.”
That’s a familiar refrain with the Badgers, but there’s also an optimistic streak. Frederic scored three times in last season’s series sweep at Michigan State.
“I just need a spark,” he said. “I think it’s going to click here soon. We’ll see this weekend.”
Said Malone: “Once we all start clicking, I think it’s going to be a beautiful thing. I think we’re going to run over teams and I think we’re going to score a lot of goals. We’ve just got to keep working and it’ll come.”