Wisconsin banking on experience in NCAA Tournament
CINCINNATI — The University of Wisconsin is on the four-year plan.
The next three years were a struggle with a young team, but once the Badgers had another veteran crop in 2010, they played for the national championship again.
Nobody on the current Wisconsin roster has won an NCAA tournament game, but this is, once again, that fourth year.
The top-seeded Badgers (24-10-2) take an experienced squad with nine seniors, a handful of key juniors and heavy expectations into today’s NCAA Midwest Regional game against fourth-seeded UND (6 p.m., ESPNU).
“I think what happens in that four-year cycle is that when we have a good team, our seniors graduate and we lose some upper-classmen,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “We’re able to put together a veteran team after four years. That seems to be our pattern. This year, we find ourselves in that pattern as well. We’re an older team.
“If you take a look at all sports in the NCAA, the teams that have the most success are upperclassman teams. You keep a core group of guys around and they grow up together. The biggest thing with this group is their ability to be effective in the locker room.”
The Badgers are led up front by three 100-career point guys in senior forwards Mark Zengerle, Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes. Sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles has 70 points in 59 career games and could sign with the Anaheim Ducks after the season.
Zengerle, Kerdiles and Barnes play on a potent top line that has compiled 42 points in the last nine games.
On the blue line, Frankie Simonelli, a second-team all-Big Ten pick, and Joe Faust are seniors, while first-team all-Big Ten defenseman Jake McCabe is a junior. In goal, Hobey Baker Award finalist Joel Rumpel is a junior.
“Wisconsin plays a great team game,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “They are veteran in every position. They had a great year in the first year of the Big Ten conference. They won the Big Ten tournament and they are full value for their No. 1 seed going into the tournament.”
The Badgers come into the tournament on a hot streak, going 10-2 in their last 12 games, including last weekend’s Big Ten postseason championship. Last season, they won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five before bowing out in the first round of the NCAAs against UMass-Lowell.
“I think you could say that last year caught us by surprise when we got to the regional,” Wisconsin senior forward Jefferson Dahl said. “It was something we weren’t ready for. The way our team has carried ourselves this year has prepared us for this regional. We realized last year how quick it can end.”
McCabe says this year has a different feel.
“We had a whirlwind season last year,” he said. “Ups and downs. This year, we have a different demeanor in our locker room. We’re a No. 1 seed. We have a lot of confidence and we’re not ready to be done playing hockey yet. We want to play for three more weeks here.”
Just like it did in the previous four-year cycles.
“There’s good energy in the locker room,” Simonelli said. “We’re all excited to be here. This is the second trip back for most people who were on the team last year and we know what we’ve learned from last year being at the NCAA regionals. We’re excited to take that and take it a step further.”