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Badgers men’s hockey: Aidan Cavallini savors ‘a pretty special experience’ with Wisconsin

Aidan Cavallini photo

No, Tony Granato did not really have a premonition that December morning in Michigan that Aidan Cavallini was about to have a breakthrough.

Sure, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach talked to the senior forward during the morning skate about being ready for a chance at his first collegiate goal.

Yes, he may have described to Cavallini the play that ended up happening hours later in a decent amount of detail, right down to it being a puck laying in the crease on a rebound.

“I didn’t know he was going to score that night,” Granato said, “but I knew he’d have the chance to.”

Cavallini had chances in plenty of games during a collegiate career where he tried to stay positive through movements in and out of the lineup.

The story of his season and time with the Badgers is a different one today than it was three months ago. That morning skate conversation led to a goal, which led to new opportunities to Cavallini to contribute.

“I never really imagined it’d be like this, or at least have the success we’re having right now,” Cavallini said. “With team success, individual success follows. It’s just a pretty special experience. I’m pretty lucky — I’d say fortunate — to be here.”

All seniors get slammed at some point with the reality that their college playing time is dwindling. Cavallini, forwards Grant Besse and Jedd Soleway and defenseman Corbin McGuire have their last games at the Kohl Center today and Saturday when No. 16 UW hosts No. 15 Ohio State.

It really came into focus for Cavallini one night this week, but he said there was a surreal quality in thinking about his last home games.

“It’s just weird,” he said, struggling to come up with a better way to describe the emotions brewing.

The senior season started in a familiar way for a player who had dressed for just under half of the Badgers’ games over his first three seasons: In the first two weekends, he played one night and sat out the next.

But Cavallini has since become something of a fourth-line mainstay, playing in 28 of 32 games overall.

A successful season for the Badgers required individual gains from a lot of returning players. Cavallini is one of the most prominent examples of how growth in players can lead to growth of the team.

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, UW is 13th in the PairWise Rankings, an objective system that replicates the NCAA tournament selection process. That’s 27 spots higher than it ended last season, the third-biggest jump in the country.

“I think he sets a great example for the kind of players that you want,” Granato said. “He could have easily been frustrated, but I think as a human being, it’s not in his M.O.”

What is a big part of Cavallini’s makeup, Granato said, is being a solid presence in the locker room. It’s one of the reasons why UW made him a nominee for the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, a national honor recognizing sportsmanship and work ethic.

No, Tony Granato did not really have a premonition that December morning in Michigan that Aidan Cavallini was about to have a breakthrough.

Sure, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey coach talked to the senior forward during the morning skate about being ready for a chance at his first collegiate goal.

Yes, he may have described to Cavallini the play that ended up happening hours later in a decent amount of detail, right down to it being a puck laying in the crease on a rebound.

“I didn’t know he was going to score that night,” Granato said, “but I knew he’d have the chance to.”

Cavallini had chances in plenty of games during a collegiate career where he tried to stay positive through movements in and out of the lineup.

The story of his season and time with the Badgers is a different one today than it was three months ago. That morning skate conversation led to a goal, which led to new opportunities to Cavallini to contribute.

“I never really imagined it’d be like this, or at least have the success we’re having right now,” Cavallini said. “With team success, individual success follows. It’s just a pretty special experience. I’m pretty lucky — I’d say fortunate — to be here.”

All seniors get slammed at some point with the reality that their college playing time is dwindling. Cavallini, forwards Grant Besse and Jedd Soleway and defenseman Corbin McGuire have their last games at the Kohl Center today and Saturday when No. 16 UW hosts No. 15 Ohio State.

It really came into focus for Cavallini one night this week, but he said there was a surreal quality in thinking about his last home games.

“It’s just weird,” he said, struggling to come up with a better way to describe the emotions brewing.

The senior season started in a familiar way for a player who had dressed for just under half of the Badgers’ games over his first three seasons: In the first two weekends, he played one night and sat out the next.

But Cavallini has since become something of a fourth-line mainstay, playing in 28 of 32 games overall.

A successful season for the Badgers required individual gains from a lot of returning players. Cavallini is one of the most prominent examples of how growth in players can lead to growth of the team.

Entering the final weekend of the regular season, UW is 13th in the PairWise Rankings, an objective system that replicates the NCAA tournament selection process. That’s 27 spots higher than it ended last season, the third-biggest jump in the country.

“I think he sets a great example for the kind of players that you want,” Granato said. “He could have easily been frustrated, but I think as a human being, it’s not in his M.O.”

What is a big part of Cavallini’s makeup, Granato said, is being a solid presence in the locker room. It’s one of the reasons why UW made him a nominee for the Derek Hines Unsung Hero Award, a national honor recognizing sportsmanship and work ethic.

They’re learned traits, especially for someone who spent parts of his youth hanging out around the professional teams his dad, Gino, played for in Austria and Germany following a 596-game NHL career.

“I idolized those guys,” Aidan Cavallini said, “so that was pretty cool.”

Maybe he learned a little from those experiences about how players handle goal slumps. Cavallini had his own going until Dec. 9 at Michigan.

A puck bounced off the glass behind the net right to Cavallini in front — just like Granato predicted — and he scored for the first time in 65 games with the Badgers.

“I don’t know if I really believed it’d be off the boards like that,” Cavallini said. “I mean, that’s pretty ridiculous.”

He has added five goals in 16 games since, including a top-shelf snipe against Ohio State at Madison Square Garden.

Cavallini isn’t leaving UW after this season — he has been accepted into a two-year master’s degree program in Applied Security Analysis through the School of Business.

subscribeBut he is coming to grips with having to move on in life without the bonds he’s formed with teammates.

“It’s been the best time of my life,” Cavallini said. “I’ve met some of my best friends here. Some of these experiences I’ve had with these guys, I’ll never forget them.”

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