first_imgSophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel (front) and Co. will look to extend their season when they open up the first round of the WCHA playoffs at home Friday at the Kohl Center.[/media-credit]It feels like a completely different season.Looking back on the Badgers’ atrocious 1-7-2 start to the 2012-13 season, it’s hard to imagine how quickly things can change. Sure, October and November don’t seem so far away in retrospect, but now, by mid-March, that 10-game streak started about five months ago.It’s been 26 games since that fateful 4-2 home loss to Minnesota State capped one of the most heart-wrenching starts to a season. Twenty-six games. That’s 13 weekends of hockey, plus two weeks off for break. It’s been three and a half months since the Badgers essentially hit rock bottom.“Regardless of where they end up in the season, you always have storms that appear on your journey,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “Our storms just came right out of the gate and they were big storms. Our ship could have sunk then, but with the leadership we had in the locker room and the coaches and that leadership working together, we persevered through that tough time and picked up a very precious commodity: resilience.”Since it’s end, no. 14 Wisconsin turned that ugly start into a 17-12-7, 13-8-7 WCHA season. With that record, they finished fourth in the conference and will host their first playoff series in three years.Looking back on Nov. 24, 2012 after their seventh loss, the Badgers weren’t sure they would be able to be where they are today – in fact junior forward Michael Mersch admitted they probably didn’t think they could at all, at the time.But with a little perseverance, persistence and resiliency Wisconsin started to win – and won big going on an impressive 11-game unbeaten streak and an 11-game conference unbeaten streak, ultimately claiming the fourth place finish they were expected to have in preseason predictions.“We never really lost hope and we just kept on battling,” sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel said. “We knew that it was going to be a tough road ahead of us, but we all knew that we could do it. I think that’s what attributed to us being able to be in the position we are right now, from second-to-last in the league at the start of the year to finishing in fourth place – which is pretty special on our part.”It wasn’t just resiliency that helped the Badgers finish the regular season sitting fourth in the WCHA. At the beginning of the season, Wisconsin implemented a new forecheck and different offensive system.While these aspects certainly took some time getting comfortable with, both the offense and defense have found their groove – leading to UW’s recent success.“Both have gotten so much better since the start of the season,” Rumpel said. “At the start, both our defense and offense, and myself, struggled a little bit. Towards midseason our defense started getting a lot stronger -which helped me out – and coming into the home stretch here our offense has picked up quite a bit.“Coming into playoffs is when you want your team to be at your best and I think we’re at that right now.”Over the course of those streaks and the push toward the post season over the final games of the season, the Badgers have admittedly been playing desperate. Every weekend has had some sort of impact on their postseason hopes and keeping those hopes alive – whether it was a potential boost in the PairWise rankings or a much needed three-point weekend from a conference opponent.That being said, Wisconsin started fighting for its season Nov. 30 at Denver and has played with a playoff mentality ever since.Now, with the playoffs finally upon them, Wisconsin isn’t changing pace.“We’ve been rolling, we just have to keep rolling,” Eaves said.But where the Badgers had room to lose a game in the regular season, there isn’t leeway this weekend – something Mersch was keen to point out.“We’ve lost a few games, obviously,” Mersch said. “Now it’s coming down to the time of the season where you can’t lose. We have to take those out of our repertoire and keep winning.”Kicking off their postseason, the Badgers host the UMD Bulldogs (14-17-5, 10-13-5 WCHA) – a team they have only seen once this season. When the Badgers squared off with the Bulldogs, it was the second week of the season, Oct. 26-27, 2012. UW took game one 2-0 – its only win in its 1-7-2 stretch – and tied game two, 2-2.Four and half months later Wisconsin considers Minnesota-Duluth to be just as different as it is.“It’s two different teams at this point,” Eaves said. “They have a young team that’s grown up a lot. The guys that are the most of an offensive threat are their young kids. They’re not freshmen anymore. They’ve played in all key situations, and they have talent. We need to be ready for that.”While the Badgers prepare to host UMD for the first time this year in only their second meeting of the season – in the playoffs no less – UW is just happy to return home for postseason play, a luxury which a majority of the team has never experienced.“It’s a little bit of a relief to the point that we haven’t done it before,” Mersch said. “It’s a good feeling after the 1-7-2 start that we had, but it doesn’t mean much unless we play well and have a couple wins this weekend.”last_img