The plan was for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team to emerge from a mid-season exhibition game with a bounce in its step and ready to face a string of conference games to finish the regular season.
After a jarring loss to the U.S. Under-18 Team on Saturday, it was on to Plan B for the Badgers when they got back to work on Monday ahead of a series against No. 12 Notre Dame.
UW faces the Fighting Irish at the Kohl Center on Friday and at Chicago’s United Center on Sunday, a highlight weekend on the schedule that also serves as the launching point for a run of seven straight Big Ten Conference series before the playoffs.
The Badgers entered the week on the heels of a 6-2 defeat to the U18 team that was essentially a lost cause for UW. It appeared to have little motivation — at one point in the third period, a spectator in the upper level politely yelled for “a little more effort, please” — and gained little from the outing as a result.
“A loss is a loss. We’re not happy with that,” Badgers captain Peter Tischke said Monday. “But we really can’t spend too much time thinking about that now that we have Big Ten games coming up. We’ve got to focus on what we can do to get better and what we really need to improve on and fine-tune.”
With little improvement during the exhibition game, the Badgers worked on systems and in the neutral and defensive zones on Monday.
Yet coach Tony Granato filed Saturday’s result in the proper category.
“We won’t go dwell on that,” he said. “An exhibition game is an exhibition game. You don’t dress 25 players and expect to go out there and play as serious as you would like to as far as what you wanted to get out of it.”
UW (8-9-3, 4-3-3-1 Big Ten) is in fifth place in the seven-team Big Ten but has two or three games in hand on the teams it trails. The Badgers are tied with first-place Ohio State and second-place Minnesota in the loss column with three.
Notre Dame (12-8-1, 5-6), meanwhile, already has as many conference losses as it did last season, when it ran away with the regular-season crown.
Future in Chicago?
UW officials have agreed to talk with their Notre Dame counterparts about continuing to play a yearly neutral-site game in Chicago, but nothing has been settled about the future.
Senior associate athletic director Jason King, who oversees the men’s hockey program, said both sides have expressed interest in having discussions but nothing more.
In 2017, UW and Notre Dame agreed to a two-year series of games at the United Center. The January 2018 contest was taken from the Fighting Irish’s home schedule, while Sunday’s game is plucked from the Badgers’ home slate.
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Granato wants to keep playing in Illinois, which produced 84 Division I men’s hockey players on this season’s rosters — behind only Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts — even though it doesn’t have a major college team of its own.
“I think games like that are just great for college hockey,” he said. “It’s great for the NHL teams to have two premier college programs in their building. From a recruiting standpoint, there’s lots of kids in the Illinois area that are elite prospects. They get a different kind of taste of college hockey.”
The Badgers defeated then-No. 1 Notre Dame 5-0 at the United Center on Jan. 21, 2018. The announced attendance was 9,313.
The Badgers debuted their new, alternate home sweaters for the exhibition game, and they plan to wear them for both games against Notre Dame.
The white jerseys have Wisconsin curved horizontally along the front above the player’s number, and a series of short, vertical red stripes along the bottom and on the sleeves.
They are the first alternate jerseys the team has worn for a game since 2013, when they had a throwback-style sweater for the Hockey City Classic against Minnesota at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
The best part of Saturday’s game to Granato came even before the opening faceoff.
PJ Bernardis, a longtime friend of Granato’s from Colorado who has Down syndrome, sang the national anthem. He also sang before a Badgers game two seasons ago.
“That’s as good of a two minutes-plus as you can have in sports, for me,” said Granato, who met Bernardis in church while he was coaching with the Colorado Avalanche some 15 years ago. “I thought it was as special as any anthem I’ve seen.”