If they’re looking for fond memories, this will not be a November to remember for those on the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
They have won just one of eight games and have been entangled in a scoring slump that’s approaching a program worst.
No player has recorded more than three points during the month, and only two have scored more than one goal.
The scoring dropoff has been especially pronounced for the Badgers’ five upperclassman forwards, who play varying roles but have combined for just one goal and five assists over eight November contests.
On the outside, they’re staying positive, however, and expressing that a breakthrough is out there. Perhaps, they hope, when they play No. 6 Penn State at the Kohl Center tonight and Saturday.
“We’re doing all the right things,” said senior right wing Will Johnson, whose goal at North Dakota on Nov. 3 is the only one by an upperclassman during the month. “Eventually, it’s going to tip and they’re all going to start coming in for us.
“Right now, it seems like nothing is dropping. But that just means it’s coming. We’ve just got to keep working, keep doing what we’re doing and it’ll tip.”
The Badgers, 1-5-2 in eight November games, have tonight’s contest left before the calendar flips to try to avoid an unpleasant distinction. If they score fewer than four goals in the series opener against the Nittany Lions, they’ll own the program record for the lowest goals-per-game average in November.
Their 11 goals in the month yields a 1.375 scoring average, below the 1.625 from 2002 that stands as the lowest on record.
The Badgers have averaged fewer than two goals per game in November only three times in 54 previous seasons in the team’s modern era — in 2002, 2006 (1.75) and 2012 (1.71). The latter two of those teams rallied to finish with winning season records, with the 2012-13 group winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff title and making the NCAA tournament.
This season’s slump has come amid a challenging schedule, with three road series against ranked teams and a home weekend against rival Minnesota. But the lack of scoring was a sudden change from the first three weekends of the season, when UW scored 10, nine and eight goals, respectively.
A seemingly large factor over the past four weeks has been the absence of left wing Linus Weissbach, one of the team’s most gifted offensive players. The sophomore isn’t likely to play against Penn State because of a right hand injury suffered Oct. 29.
Without him, the power play has struggled to find the right combinations and the team has scored just three times on 34 opportunities with the numerical advantage.
At even strength, the Badgers’ top forward line — made up of junior Max Zimmer and seniors Seamus Malone and Johnson for all but two games this season — has generated only one goal in November.
Malone, who is tied with freshmen Jack Gorniak and K’Andre Miller for the team lead with three points in November, stressed working in front of the net for rebounds that seemed plentiful early in the season.
“You look at the first couple weekends, rebounds were half our goals,” he said. “We’ve just got to get back to that.”
Left wing Matthew Freytag finished last season with four goals in the final six games, setting him up for what he hoped would be a productive senior season. With only two assists through 14 outings, it hasn’t materialized.
In the longest goal drought of his 100-game collegiate career and relegated to the fourth line, Freytag said he hasn’t done anything drastic to try to break out of it but conceded that the scoring slowdown has been aggravating.
“It’s definitely frustrating because you always want things to go right,” Freytag said. “But you’ve just got to stick with it. (Coach) Tony (Granato) always preaches, ‘Just be ready when you have that opportunity.’ Just staying ready is the biggest thing, not getting too down. Because when you start getting frustrated, gripping your stick too tight, that’s when things don’t go your way, especially as a team.”
Adding in Jarod Zirbel, a senior who has one assist on the lower lines, the five upperclassman forwards have totaled six points and a minus-13 rating in November. The eight freshman and sophomore forwards have seven goals, 13 points and are a combined minus-8.
There’s a subtext of looking to the future with this season’s UW team because of the large number of underclassmen in prominent roles and the potential stars the Badgers have lined up to enter next season. That does little for this year’s seniors.
“There’s a little bit of that tenseness in how we play,” Johnson said. “We all know it’s our last run and we all want to make the most of it. Sometimes, it’s realizing maybe you don’t do too much. Maybe we’re thinking a little too much — I have to do this instead of just settling down and realizing that our team will pick us up behind us and just do what we have to do.”