Monday, December 28, 2009

Mid-Season Review: We Are Who I Thought We Were

It's the official mid-way point in the season so I figured it was a good time to review where we are, where I thought we would be, and where we are going.

Where I thought we would be: Like the title implicates, this is EXACTLY where I thought we would be at this point in the season. I've been telling people and posting that this Wisconsin team should not be taken lightly, and anything short of a frozen four birth and a serious run at a national title is unacceptable.

In my early season article previewing our defensemen I announced that "this is the best group of defensemen ever to be put together on one college team. EVER." I absolutely stand by that stance half way through the season.

Offensively before the season I was in love with our depth at forward. I feel the exact same way today. Losing Stepan offensively definitely hurts during the WJC, but it won't be as painful as it would have been in past seasons. We have seven players that can play the center position (Street, Geoffrion, Stepan, Thurber, Bendickson, Smith, Dolan).

Goaltending was our biggest question mark coming into the season. At this point I did figure that Brett Bennett would be the full time starter by now and we know that this is not the case, yet.

Where are we: For the first time in a few seasons we're sitting in excellent position in both the conference and in the pairwise rankings at the mid point.

Conference wise, we're sitting in third place with an 8-4-2 record through 14 conference games. We're only two points behind first place Denver. If I've said this one, I've said this 100 times, I couldn't care less where we finish in the conference because our ultimate goal every season should be a national championship. With that said, most likely the higher our finish the better position we are when the seeds come out because it means we won a lot of games. The conference race is extremely tight this season and anything could shake out in the end. Most likely I see us finishing second behind Denver when the season ends.

Pairwise-wise, we're in seventh place in the nation which isn't bad positioning right now. As you already know, with automatic qualifiers from conference tournaments, Wisconsin needs to position itself most likely in the top 12 to assure ourselves an at-large bid. This year seems to be a bit of an abnormality as five out of the six conferences in the nation are represented in the top 8 teams in the current pairwise. To be safe, let's just keep ourselves in the top 12.

I don't take a ton of stock into these numbers because it's hard to judge how much affect strength of schedule takes on it, but at the midway point Wisconsin is second in the nation in scoring, averaging 4.06 goals per game, and we're sixth in the nation in goals against per game, at 2.11 goals against. Regardless of strength of schedule, those are pretty freaking impressive numbers.

A Few Individual Notes:

Goaltending-I don't think anyone really knew what to expect coming into the season with the goaltenders. Scott Gudmandson really had not proven anything in his first two seasons as a Badger. Also, Brett Bennett was coming out of an awful situation at BU, but a great season in the USHL. Needless to say, I've been shocked as to how well these goalies have played. Individually, Gudmandson is fifth in the nation in goals against at 1.87, and Brett Bennett is tied for ninth in the nation at 2.12 which is pretty good. Save percentage wise, at .925 Gudmandson is ranked 11th in the nation, and Bennett is sitting at .904 through 9 games.

John Ramage-As a late recruit, not a ton of people knew what to expect from Ramer. I personally didn't expect him to be a regular coming into the season, and obviously I was wrong since he's played in every game for the Badgers so far. At the midway point the freshman defenseman has two goals and five helpers through his first 18 college games.

Jake Gardiner-I know he's been getting some grief from the fan base lately but I honestly don't see it being as much of a factor as a lot of you do. Gardiner has been asked to play a different role than many of us are accustomed to seeing him play. Being paired with McDonagh their first job is shutting down opposing teams first lines. I think they've done a very good job at that so far. Sure additional offense would be great out of Gardiner, but he can't leave McD out on an island against other teams top lines because they will make us pay. I like that Gardiner has been smarter at picking his spots this season.

Brendan Smith-This kid has been everything that he was advertised to be when he signed with the Badgers. He's third in the nation in scoring with 26 points in 17 games. He's also second in the nation in assists with 18 games. He's still got work to do defensively and is a very interesting case for the Hobey Baker. He gets a lot of accolades for the points he puts up offensively but he's probably our worst defenseman, defensively.

Blake Geoffrion-The guy has taken the next step in his development that's for sure. At the start of the season I would have put the percentage of him being second in the nation in goals at about zero, and that's no offense to Blake. 14 goals through the first 18 games is nothing to sneeze at. He also leads the nation in power play goals.

Michael Davies-I absolutely flipped when this kid was held out of the lineup in the opening weekend and I think I had a pretty good point. He has 16 points in 16 games and that's exactly what the kid brings to the table. He's on pace to break the 100 point mark in his college career and that's a pretty big accomplishment.

Craig Smith-This guy is having a huge freshman season on the offensive side with 15 points in 16 games. He was a big time scorer in the USHL and that has carried over to the college game. The other part that has carried over? Penalties. He's already served a two game suspension for his checking from behind in Mankato. He has 52 minutes in penalties and that's simply way too much. If he wants to help this team he needs to find the line between being aggressive and being stupid.

Where we are going: National Championship or bust in my opinion. I know that is a lofty expectation but the talent level on this team is second to none. Like I've stated many times, this is the best cast of defensemen EVER assembled at this level. Offensively Blake Geoffrion has taken it as a personal challenge to have the best season in his hockey career. Derek Stepan looks like he is going to be an absolute star and is going to have a HUGE second half after tearing up the World Junior Championship. If our goaltenders continue to play like they have been, which has been nothing short of brilliant overall, there is no reason why we cannot challenge for a title.

Photo Credit: RedHeat15