By: Brian Mosgaller
And the exodus from Wisconsin men’s hockey continues. With the announcement this week that Badgers’ defensemen Brendan Smith and Cody Goloubef were moving on to NHL careers, the current tally of departures from the program stands at seven seniors, two underclassmen and two assistant coaches.
While Smith’s decision to sign with the Detroit Red Wings – the team that selected the Mimico, Ontario, native with the 27th pick of the 2007 draft – and Goloubef’s to ink a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets – who took the Oakville, Ontario, product in the second round of the 2008 event – weren’t shocking, they did put the finishing touches on what will end up being a transformational offseason for the Badgers.
In addition to Smith and Goloubef, UW will bid adieu to seniors and team leaders Aaron Bendickson, Andy Bohmbach, Michael Davies, Blake Geoffrion, Ben Grotting, John Mitchell and Ben Street, as well as assistant coaches Kevin Patrick and Mark Osiecki.
Patrick was tabbed as the new head coach of the Muskegon Lumberjacks, an expansion franchise in the United States Hockey League (USHL), and Osiecki was given the same role for the Ohio State Buckeyes, who, on the men’s side, compete in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).
As for the seniors, Geoffrion, the first Hobey Baker award winner from the school and draft pick of the Nashville Predators, has already made an impact elsewhere, scoring two power-play goals for the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals in their playoff series versus the Chicago Wolves. Similarly, Davies, the Badgers’ second-leading scorer last year and NHL free agent, has signed a deal with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of Brideport, Conn., according to the school’s website.
And though we wish all the departed the best and continued success, the absence of the seven seniors (all forwards!) will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on the nation’s second most prolific offensive unit. When combined with the early exits of two of key defensemen – Smith (15 goals, 37 assists this season, both tops among defensemen) and Goloubef (+13 on the year) – the team will inevitably sport a drastically different look next season.
In many ways, the substantial roster turnover resembles a similar gutting experienced by the UW women this season. That 2009 national-championship winning squad lost six seniors – forwards Erika Lawler, Angie Keseley and Kayla Hagen, defensemen Alycia Matthews and Rachel Bible, and all-world goaltender Jessie Vetter – as well as junior Meghan Duggan and sophomore Hilary Knight, who both took the season off to represent Team USA in the Vancouver Olympics. Head coach Mark Johnson also took a year hiatus to coach that silver-medal winning unit, and assistant Dan Koch left to take over the U-16 women’s team at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
As a result, the team struggled mightily, finishing the year 18-15-3 and losing to Ohio State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, after posting a 34-2-5 mark en route to the ’09 title.
It is distinctly possible that the movements regarding the men’s program produce similar difficulties, but there are some key differences. For one, the men’s team simply has a deeper cupboard of talent. It appears more and more that junior defensemen Ryan McDonagh will return for his senior go-round, as will forward Derek Stepan. Sure, the team’s strength will shift from a high-octane offense to a solid defensive corps, but the Badgers still boast a deeper pool of talent than the women’s program enjoyed.
The second divergence of note between the 2009 women and the 2010 men is Scott Gudmandson. Whereas the Badger women lost their heart and soul and brick wall when it waved goodbye to Vetter, the men at least can rest assured they will have continuity in the goal, which should definitely help.
And lastly, is Mike Eaves. No one blamed Mark Johnson for taking the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to coach and Olympic team, but imagine the effect of removing Coach K from the Duke bench for a season and putting Wojo at the helm. There would clearly be some seams in that transition. With all due respect to interim coach Tracy DeKeyser, having Johnson back will greatly bolster that team’s chances. The men, on the other hand, won’t have to deal with such turbulence at the top level.
Nevertheless, the 11 program departures will not go unfelt. Osiecki helped recruit at least 10 players to Madison that have been selected in the NHL draft.
But the stable of potential assistant coach replacements is promising. Some early names floated include Craig Norwich, Eaves’ one-time college teammate and, until recently, the boys’ hockey coach at St. Paul (Minn.) Academy, and former all-America UW center Gary Shuchuk. Considering Eaves and his past assistants have a well-lubricated recruiting pipeline already established, bringing in well-respected hockey minds and names like Norwich and Shuchuk should ensure continued recruiting success for the Badgers, the cornerstone for on-ice success.
Moreover, the team features the talent to better bear the brunt of its imminent losses. Even if losing seven graduating forwards hurts, it also opens the door for will-be senior forwards Patrick Johnson, Podge Turnbull and Sean Dolan to expand their games. Additionally, if Wisconsin can get greater contributions from junior Jordy Murray and sophomore Craig Smith, along with bits of production from the incoming class, they still should boast an elite offensive unit, albeit one that pales in comparison with its predecessor.
The point is, this type of program plastic surgery from one year to the next can have wide-ranging negative effects. Or, the team can plug in new parts and keep on rolling. This year’s women’s hockey Badgers tended toward the former, but with greater talent reserves, a returning goaltender and Mike Eaves still at the helm, next year’s Badger crew could be making the trip to St. Paul, Minn., next March for a shot at redemption in the 2011 Frozen Four.