Badgers' Master of Defense
Osiecki Back Coaching in Old Home Pays Dividends
by Tim Rappleye/CHN Reporter
DETROIT In the last regular-season series for Wisconsin, it had its Pairwise rank knocked for a loop by the high-flying Buckeyes, getting swept at home by Ohio State.
Knowing it might face the same club a week later at the Big Ten semifinals, head coach Tony Granato turned to his master of defense, assistant coach Mark Osiecki, to overhaul the mentality of his troops. The result was a tight-fought 2-1 win for Wisconsin in the Big 10 semifinals, knocking three goals off the Buckeyes' four-goal per game average. Granato gave credit where it was due.
“He’s phenomenal, he’s just had a huge impact” said Granato of Osiecki. “I think tonight was probably as consistent as we’ve played defensively as a group.”
After the Badgers come-to-Jesus weekend in Madison, they had no time to spare in getting their heads screwed on right. The re-education started at the very top.
“From the beginning of the week, we talked about sticking to a game plan, wearing them out,” sophomore captain Luke Kunin said. “Everyone bought into what we had to do, and that’s why we played so well.”
“We played defense by playing good offense,” added Granato. “When it was in our end, we blocked out shots when we needed to, but we got out of our end quick.”
What was Osiecki’s message to the players that helped them discover the winning formula in a single week of practice?
“The biggest thing, you don’t want to go chance for chance," Osiecki said. “You’re not going to have too much success going chance for chance. We did against them last weekend, and they can score. They’re high flying, can really bury the puck, guys that can get up and go, that was the difference for us, that mentality.”
In addition to being the Badgers' chief defensive coach, he is extremely personal, the unofficial honcho of Wisconsin recruiting. Only four years removed from a three-year tenure at Ohio State, Osiecki developed strong relationships with several of his semifinal opponents and their families, especially Buckeyes’ senior goaltender Matt Tomkins.
“The biggest thing is that you just want to see those guys do well,” said Osiecki. “It was nice to see Tomkins do well, though not last weekend. We had a long chat after the game, he played well. They’re all good kids, and you want to see them do well.”
Osiecki would not comment on his mysterious dismissal from Columbus after only three years. When presse, he said only, “You’d have to ask them. I don’t want to comment on that.”
At 48, Osiecki is a man with a diverse and highly-regarded hockey resume, having coached everywhere from NCAA to World Juniors to the AHL. Granato is extremely happy to have him back in Badgertown, where he won a championship ring as a player and an assistant coach.
“He’s coming from the Blackhawk organization. His reputation and what he’s done for defensemen that are now playing in the NHL, he helps them develop and mature fast. I think he’s done a heck of a job with our group,” Granato said.
For the time being, and especially at the Big Ten Championships, Ohio State’s loss is Wisconsin’s gain.