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After Years Lost in the Wilderness, Wisconsin Men’s Hockey Might Be Back



Wisconsin Badgers Hockey coach Mike Hastings
Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Hastings guides the team through practice at La Bahn Arena in Madison, Wis. at Tuesday Sept. 26, 2026.

I hadn’t attended a Wisconsin Badgers hockey game in a decade, a 3-2 win over Minnesota at Soldier Field naturally, until Thursday night’s contest against the top-ranked Gophers at Mariucci Arena.

Despite No. 14 Wisconsin coming into the game as a freshly ranked team, after sweeping No. 17 Michigan Tech on the road, I will admit my expectations were low for the Badgers.

Wisconsin Men’s Hockey Takes Down Top-Ranked Minnesota

My brother-in-law had bought two tickets in the fourth row by the penalty box earlier in the day and, with the 8 pm local time puck drop, I think both of us were secretly hoping we wouldn’t have to stay the whole game. Well, 15 seconds after we sat down it certainly seemed like we’d be able to duck out before the final horn.

The Gophers won the opening face-off, cycled the puck around in the UW zone, and then Jaxon Nelson fired the first shot of the game past Kyle McClellan for a 1-0 Minnesota lead. I was the “I’m not actually mad, this is funny to me” meme in real life. Was this just the “same old Badgers” from the past couple of years? Sure looked like it!

I don’t do much writing about the Wisconsin Badgers hockey team, mostly because they have stunk and nobody cared, but the past two seasons I wrote basically the same post 13 months apart calling for Tony Granato’s firing. I think they’re both pretty good, well-reasoned posts and you can read the 2021 version on Bucky’s 5th Quarter here and the 2022 version on Badgers Ball Knower here.

UW finally made a change behind the bench after last season and brought in Mike Hastings from Minnesota State. Hastings brought an impressive resume of success to Madison, having won the national coach of the year award in 2022, 2021, and 2015 and leading the Mavericks to the Frozen Four in ‘22 and ‘21. He was widely lauded as an excellent hire…but so was Granato. Needless to say, “winning the coaching carousel” wasn’t going to be enough to bring excitement back to the Kohl Center.

Well, after seeing the Wisconsin Badgers beat the Gophers up and down the ice, in their own barn, I feel confident in saying that the Kohl Center should see plenty of excitement this season. Under 90 seconds after Minnesota took the lead, the Badgers responded with a power play goal to tie things up and the Border Battle showdown was on.

Mathieu De St. Phalle scored the opener, on his way to a two-goal and three-point night, while former Minnesota commit Cruz Lucius added a pair of goals of his own and one large “shhhh” taunt that sent the Gophers student section heading for the doors with five minutes left in the game. Defenseman Ben Dexheimer had three assists, Carson Bantle had a SICK deke (after an incredible series of passes) to score his third goal of the season, and McClellan was rock solid in net after that first shot to earn the win.

More importantly than the win, however, was how this team looked. They were athletic, physical, and smart for all 60 minutes. They were relentless on the forecheck and timely with their backchecks. They got punched in the mouth immediately, on the road against their biggest rival in a loud arena, and didn’t even flinch. In fact, they just punched right back and kept on punching until they won 5-2. Hastings, for all of his success on the ice, is also, pretty clearly, successful as a Vibe Shifter.

Wisconsin Badgers Hockey Might…Be Back

The 6-1-0 start for the Wisconsin Badgers hockey team marks their best first seven games since the 2000-01 team opened 7-0 and they are also 3-2-0 in the last five games where the Gophers are the top-ranked team in the nation. UW has already notched four ranked wins (No. 17 Michigan Tech 2x, No. 7 North Dakota, No. 1 Minnesota) and all of those have come away from home. In fact, the Badgers have only played two home games all season! That’s really impressive!

The Badgers play the Gophers again on Friday night (8 p.m. on BTN) before finally returning home next weekend to play Michigan. In my humble opinion, this team has earned a rowdy welcome home series and I hope fans flock to the Kohl Center to give it to them.

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Drew Hamm is a seasoned sports journalist with an extensive background in covering the Wisconsin Badgers. He has previously held positions as the site manager at Bucky's 5th Quarter and founder of Badgers Ball Knower. Currently, he contributes as a staff writer for