Wisconsin Seniors Leave Legacy
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
CINCINNATI A pair of empty net goals courtesy of North Dakota’s Rocco Grimaldi sealed Friday night’s 5-2 win over Wisconsin in the teams' NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal. The empty-netters also ended the collective on-ice career of an impressive senior class of 10 soon-to-be graduates.
The moments after a loss like the one Wisconsin suffered on Friday – a season-ending loss, to an archrival – usually don’t offer ideal timing for a senior to reflect on his college hockey career.
But that’s when they’re typically asked to do so.
“Thinking about all those memories we’ve had, and the good times – I think that’s something we’ll all take away from this year,” said Badgers assistant captain Jefferson Dahl moments after stepping off the ice.
Dahl’s final win in a Badger uniform came in the inaugural Big Ten championship game a week ago, when Wisconsin overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to defeat Ohio State in overtime. With that win, Wisconsin earned back-to-back conference titles – having won the WCHA crown a year ago – for the first time since 1983.
That title will be part of the legacy left by a senior class that led the nation with 4.83 points per game this season prior to the tournament and that included three of the Badgers’ top four scorers, with Mark Zengerle’s 44 points leading the way. Zengerle and fellow seniors Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes all conclude their careers in Madison with over 100 career points.
And their head coach, Mike Eaves, knows they offered maximal effort on Friday night against North Dakota.
“It was all on the ice,” said Eaves, in his 12th season at the helm of his alma mater, “and for that reason alone they can leave this building with their heads held high tonight.
“I really enjoyed this group of young men who were seniors for us. There’s a pitfall that can happen when you have a large group of guys – we call it ‘senioritis”… But they were a humble group. They wanted to get better. They were willing to take criticism from each other in a good way.”
Key returnees for Wisconsin this fall will be sophomore Nic Kerdiles, who was part of a line with Zengerle and Barnes that remarkably entered the tournament with 96 points in its last 24 games, and junior goaltender Joel Rumpel. Rumpel, a Hobey Baker finalist, compiled more wins (19) than any goaltender in college hockey since December 1 and entered the NCAA tournament with a 2.03 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.
Indeed, Kerdiles and Rumpel will be among the group that will be called upon to carry forward the legacy left by Wisconsin’s Class of 2014.
“Those players have a sense of what it feels like to win,” said senior captain Frankie Simonelli. “For those who still have a year under their belt, [they should] do everything they can to make this experience well worth it.”