Tony Granato was holding his weekly Monday news conference when he referenced one of the best compliments a team can get. The compliment came from Jim Montgomery, coach of Denver, the second-ranked team in the nation.
“He said in the third period that was as hard as anyone has ever come out against them,” said Granato, the first-year coach at Wisconsin and a Badger alum. “The night before we played Colorado College and limited them to only (11) shots on net.
“We’re pretty close to being a good team.”
If the Badgers aren’t already there, last weekend’s trip to Colorado — where they edged CC 2-1 on Friday and scored three goals in a furious third-period rally at Denver before falling 6-5 — certainly added fuel to the fire.
“It showed how good we are and that we can compete with the highest-ranked teams in the country,” sophomore center Luke Kunin said. “The first and second periods were a little slow for our liking, but the third period was a big confidence boost for our guys. We know now that if we play like that for 60 minutes teams can’t stick with us.”
Wisconsin gets its first chance to build off that third-period success Friday night in the nightcap of ASN’s televised doubleheader. The Badgers, 7-5-0 and 3-3 at home, take on Omaha, 7-5-2 and unbeaten on the road 4-0-1. Game 1 pits Notre Dame at UMass at 6 p.m.
“We know they’re big and physical and have one of, if not the best power play in college hockey,” Kunin said. “It’ll be a good test before we get into Big Ten play next week.”
Kunin was the 15th pick overall by the Minnesota Wild in this year’s draft and has been waiting to be a part of Wisconsin’s storied past since verbally committing to Wisconsin as a freshman in high school.
“Growing up I watched how Wisconsin always played with a swagger and was putting players into the NHL,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of that tradition.”
His Badger career got off to a slow start. Longtime coach Mike Eaves was fired this past spring after the Badgers went 12-45-3 over the past two seasons and finished with losing records in three of the past five seasons. Eaves also sent 26 players to the NHL, won one national title and had a runner-up finish.
Wisconsin turned to Granato, a former Olympian and NHL player and coach who was a gritty All-American at UW, scoring 100 goals and 120 assists in 152 games from 1983 to 1987. He also had 240 penalty minutes, prompting him to wave off the question on Monday if any Badgers currently on the roster reminded him of he played.
“I’d take too many penalties in today’s game,” he said. “It’s different. I could see suiting up for the football team. What a job they’ve done for the school and all of us.”
Granato is the fifth coach in the history of the storied program, and he was a package deal as he brought along his brother Don and Mark Osiecki to help coach. They’ve been loading up on recruits since Day One, intent on restoring the program glory.
“It’s a new culture,” Kunin said. “We say compete for each other. It means be a hard worker for the guys sitting on both sides of you so at the end of the game or practice you’ll be able to say you gave it your all.
“The way we want to play the game is with swagger and confidence. We have a skilled team and when you play fast with skill it makes it fun for everyone.”
The Omaha-Wisconsin weekend series features two of the top power play units in the country and the Mavs are backstopped by NCHC goalie of the week Evan Weninger, a sophomore who recorded the second shutout of his career on Saturday in a 2-0 win over Northern Michigan.