The Badgers will win the Frozen Frenzy. At least that is what we are all hoping for. My previous article previewed the entire Frozen Frenzy Tournament field and predicted each of the winners through the championship game. Yes, I have Wisconsin as the last team standing. This preview however, will outline both how the Badgers will win it all and why they may fall short in their quest.
Why Wisconsin Will Win
The Badgers won the conference regular season tournament and fell to Minnesota 6-4 in the Big Ten title game. Wisconsin is a very good team. They are certainly worthy of the number one seed they earned for the Frozen Frenzy tournament.
The Big Ten Conference is deep this year, as evidenced by four teams making the tourney (tied with the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for most entries). Wisconsin benefited from the nightly opportunity to face off with a team that would help them prepare for the tournament. The Badgers were 20-9-1 overall and 17-6-1-1 in conference play. Against fellow Frozen Frenzy teams, Wisconsin was a respectable 7-5-1. They were 3-2 against the Minnesota Gophers. Wisconsin is battle tested and even mighty North Dakota, the overall number one seed would not be any tougher than facing Minnesota. The conference schedule absolutely ensured the Badgers will win the Frozen Frenzy.
The Offensive Zone: Scoring
Wisconsin is the nation’s second most potent goal scoring team, averaging 3.8 goals per game. Hockey is simple. Score more goals than the opponent. Expect Wisconsin to have zero problems here. The vaunted Wisconsin attack was rarely shut down this season. In fact, they scored one goal on just three occasions and avoided being shut out. Michigan had particular success as they held the Badgers to one goal twice. These two games were outliers of sorts. Dylan Holloway missed one of the contests. Additionally, Cole Caufield was limited to five shots in these two games. Needless to say, expect the Badgers to rise to the occasion in the tournament, especially if they face Michigan again. For this match-up to even take place, both teams would need to make the Frozen Four. I do not see Michigan holding up its end of the bargain.
Stars Shine, Supporting Cast Steps Up
The Badgers possess two Hobey Baker Award Finalists in Dylan Holloway and Cole Caufield. The Frozen Frenzy is the time for players of this caliber to step up and lead their teams. The Badgers are too talented to expect Caufield to CARRY them. Rather, he just needs to make plays and consistently impact the game in Wisconsin’s favor. Caufield is the leading scorer in D-1 with 28 goals and 21 assists. Holloway posted 11 goals and 23 assists.
The Badgers also have a group of players who can take the pressure of their Hobey Baker finalists. Linus Weissbach was second on the team in scoring with 11 goals and 29 assists. Ty Pelton-Bryce, Roman Ahcan and Brock Caufield are all capable scorers as well and defenders must account for each of them. All four of these players are also comfortable setting up their teammates with scoring opportunities. Caufield had eight shots and one goal in the conference championship game. Early on however, he was hardly noticaeble on the ice. The Badgers will win because Caufield will be at his best.
You’re probably wondering “Did you see the Big Ten Championship!?” Yes, indeed I did. It is easy to become a prisoner of the moment after a game like that. A little bit of a dive into the season of each goalie tells a better story. UW has not had a goalie with a save percentage of .920 since 2013-14 when Joe Rumpel achieved this. Cameron Rowe is at .934 and Robbie Beydoun is at .922. Of course, 2013-14 was the last time the Badgers made the Frozen Frenzy. The goalie tandem/rotation does not receive much recognition outside of Madison. They have been overshadowed by Caufield, Holloway and the offensive onslaught that takes place on the other end of the ice. Let’s give them some credit for Wisconsin’s success!
Wisconsin is the only team to feature two goalies posting a save percentage of .920 or higher with each goalies playing at least a third of the minutes. Let that sink in for a second. Having both of them makes the goaltender position somewhat of a weapon for the Badgers. Beydoun and Rowe may not be the best goalies in the tourney but they will play well enough to keep the Badgers in every game. And if one of them gets hot, Wisconsin may not play a close game in this tourney.
Why The Badgers May Not Win
Wisconsin is a good team. Perhaps even a great team. But they are not without flaws. The most complete and consistent team will win the Frozen Frenzy. What follow is why Wisconsin may not be that team.
Although the Badgers are talented, they lack urgency at times. Going back to the Big Ten Championship game against Minnesota, the Badgers were outworked for roughly half the game. The Badgers kicked it into gear about the same time it seemed like their night was over. Wisconsin will not advance past Bemidji State if they have a similar lapse in their opening round Frozen Frenzy game.
Although I certainly believe the Badgers will win this thing, I also believe their opponents will be relentless against Wisconsin. Coming out flat to open any period could be all it takes for momentum to shift away from the Badgers and end their run.
Cole Caufield Factor (Yes I know I sound NUTS)
You may find it strange for Cole Caufield to be mentioned as a reason why Wisconsin will not win the tournament. Cole Caufield is not specifically the reason for this but rather, how his team can almost be complacent due to his consistent impact on the game.
Minnesota successfully jammed Caufield up with pressure early in the most recent matchup, effectively setting the tone. Cole did not have much room to operate and did not have many shots until the middle and latter stages of the game. At that point, it was too late. Admittedly, I was waiting for Caufield to make a play, set up a scoring chance. Anything to change momentum. Perhaps his teammates were doing the same thing. Caufield is a great hockey player. Teams at this stage do not let great players beat them single-handed. Should Wisconsin get caught up “watching” Cole, they most likely will not go very far.
Look for Bemidji State and any other team that the Badgers face to make Caufield work hard to make plays. Talented players like Caufield sometimes try to make things happen instead of just playing. If any team is successful, the Badgers will not win the championship. Caufield can absolutely carry a team but it is too much to expect him to do that against higher level competition for five straight games should they advance to the title game.
Badgers Beat Themselves at Times
In hockey, it does not take much to beat yourself. Against Minnesota, Cole Caufield committed the sin of taking a penalty while his team was on the power play. While the Gophers did not score during the man advantage, their first goal came seconds after it expired with Caufield scrambling to get back to his defensive zone. The Badgers will not win against Bemidji St or any other team at this time of the year with mistakes like this.
Additionally, the Badgers were guilty of allowing too many odd man rush opportunities and defensive zone giveaways against the Gophers in the title game. The Badger defensemen often were caught in “no mans” land in their own zone. As a result, loose pucks found Gopher sticks and they fired a flurry of uncontested shots at the Badger’s goaltenders. You know what they say: own zone turnovers are bad for your health. While Wisconsin did rally and made the score of that game respectable, goalies Robbie Beydoun and Cameron Rowe were required to stand on their heads to make ridiculous saves. I am sure each of the Badgers’ goalies would appreciate fewer opportunities to end up on SportsCenter.
The recipe for Wisconsin to be the best of the 16 teams is easy: beat the opponent, not yourself. Expect Caufield and Co. to come out swinging early against Bemidji St. It is important for them to set the tone from the initial face off in each game. If they can get each opponent on its’ heels early on, the Badgers will dominate.
Conversely, the key to stopping Wisconsin is shutting down Cole Caufield. Wisconsin often scuffles when Caufield is not impacting the game. The by product of pressuring Caufield is that he can make mistakes trying to force the action. Cole must remain calm and mentally in the game even if the opponent makes his life difficult. Also, the supporting cast must find a way to make things happen when Cole cannot. I believe they will. I also believe the Badgers will clean up the things that plagued them against the Gophers last week. The Badgers’ run begins Friday, March 26th at noon central time.
Let’s follow up what the Lady Badgers did and get another trophy to Madison!
P.S. Below is my Twitter info. There is always the chance I’ll look dumb. Hopefully not. Either way, enjoy the Frenzy!