The Badgers men’s hockey team were eliminated from the playoffs on February 21 by the Guelph Gryphons. The Gryphons swept the Badgers in a best of three series in the second round and two weeks later, they lifted the Queen’s Cup.
The Badgers ran into Guelph at a moment when they were battling hard. Everything clicked for the Gryphons in that second round. Their best goal scorer and captain left in the middle of the playoffs to play in a German league.
There was something decidedly unlucky about this season for Brock. They lost the Steel Blade Classic to the Gryphons and the losses piled up from there. They started their regular season with a loss at home to the Windsor Lancers, they dropped an NCAA exhibition game against RPI and managed to tie at Quinnipiac. A 5-1 victory over Toronto was their only win in the first two weeks of the season.
The goals were coming, they just weren’t coming at the right time and with the right frequency. Bad bounces plagued the Badgers. They were outshooting their opponents but weren’t putting up the goals to match. Mario Cavaliere struggled as he started in net most games.
Head coach Marty Williamson changed up the lines and the Badgers found their footing. They went on a seven game win streak from October 24 until November 14. Of course, it had to be the Gryphons to break their streak, handing them a 5-1 loss on November 15.
The Badgers message became about hard work. Not a pretty team, not a team that scores highlight reel goals, but a team that outworked their opponents.
They solidified this identity after the winter break in January, as they started the second half of the season with two losses — the second of which would end up being their worst loss of the season. They were shut out by the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 7-0. They had made two notable additions to the team, forward Jordan Maletta and goaltender Mario Culina.
It took a few games to adjust, but the Badgers found themselves in winning form once again. It was nothing like their seven game winning streak in the fall but it was enough to earn them a spot in the playoffs.
It was a season of adjustments. Every time the Badgers seemed to have found their identity, something happened. Someone got hurt, or someone joined the team and they had to adapt.
It’s the nature of university hockey that teams won’t be the same from year to year. Players graduate and others move on. While their forward core still has another few years to make a run, the Badgers will have to do some work in the offseason to replace three defenders. Skylar Pacheco, Dexter Weber and Ethan Spaxman will be missed on the blue line. Forward Cosimo Fontana was also honoured alongside the defenders.
“We have a lot of guys coming back but we have to go out, we have to do some re-tooling, replace a couple defenceman that we’re losing and [Fontana] up front and Maletta up front. We’ll go out and recruit some players and get ready for next season,” said Williamson.
As the Badgers leadership group of Captain Connor Walters and alternates Connor Brown, Jared Marino and Justin Brack mature, the atmosphere surrounding the team can only get better. They’ve created a culture where hard work trumps talent.
The Badgers can only hope that the Guelph Gryphons lose their number by next season.