By the time Peter Tischke’s playing career with the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is over at the end of this season, it’s exceedingly likely he’ll land with a pro team.
But if it’s all about the journey, the senior defenseman will at the very least be able to appreciate how far he has come with the program.
On two fronts, there were possibilities for him to not be with the Badgers as they try to answer for last season’s shortcomings and move back in a positive direction in the third season under coach Tony Granato.
One was that, as a free agent, Tischke had offers to sign professional contracts over the summer. He wouldn’t say how many, but they were there.
The other goes back to the offseason after his freshman year and the possibility he could have been among the players let go by Granato and the new coaching staff that came aboard.
When you take in what Tischke has done over the past two seasons — he established himself as the team’s workhorse in the back end, playing more minutes than anyone else and especially in critical situations — that’s hard to imagine.
But after an admittedly mediocre freshman year and with a new coaching staff telling him he was on the bubble with the team, Tischke had to face the prospect of being cut loose.
“It was just a splash in the face, wake up, get yourself together, figure it out and get back to work,” he said.
That Tischke will finish his college career as the captain and one of the most respected players in the locker room is evidence of a remarkable transformation.
Granato described Tischke as a “hidden gem” in the group of returning players he inherited when he took over in 2016.
For that level of praise now, however, there was an equal measure of uncertainty three years ago.
“There weren’t a lot of people that were going out and sticking their necks out on the line and saying Peter Tischke’s going to be your warrior and he’s going to be a guy that you’re going to rely on,” Granato said.
An initial conversation between coach and player helped change the tone.
“He said some things to me and I said some things to him,” Granato said. “And I said, ‘I like this kid. And I think if he can back up what he’s saying right now, I’m going to love coaching him.’”
Tischke knows he needed to back up what he was saying, and in the two seasons since he talked his way back onto the team, he has rewarded Granato for the faith.
After his sophomore season, Tischke was named the team’s most consistent player. After his junior year, he took honors as most competitive and the unsung hero.
The best examples Granato said he can give on Tischke’s value to the team are in the blocked shots that have piled up over the last two years.
He was credited with just 17 as a freshman, 0.63 per game. As a sophomore, it was 60 (1.71 per game) and as a junior, 79 (2.14).
“He wants to win and he’s going to lay it out on the line for you,” Granato said. “That’s the way he practices and that’s his attitude.
“You have to have your leaders and your best players, your incoming guys, your veterans have that mentality. Because if a certain group of people don’t have it, it becomes awful difficult.”
The Badgers were five games under .500 last season (14-19-4), a humbling stumble from being five above and within an overtime goal of the Big Ten Conference playoff title the previous year.
Tischke knows he has important roles to play in the team making progress this season, both as the captain and as the on-ice mentor of a young-but-talented defensive corps.
The Badgers have six freshmen and sophomores on the blue line, and five of them have been drafted by NHL teams: K’Andre Miller (first round), Ty Emberson (third), Tyler Inamoto (fifth), Wyatt Kalynuk (seventh) and Josh Ess (seventh).
“I’m just really excited to see where it’s going to go,” Tischke said. “I think we’ll be a good, strong defensive corps. We’ll be able to move pucks up quickly, hopefully generate some offense when we need to and let the forwards do the rest.”
Granato saw Tischke’s competitiveness and grit rub off on last year’s freshmen, especially Inamoto and Kalynuk. He expects the same this year with Miller, Emberson and Jesper Peltonen.
“Those guys get better because they push each other to get better,” Granato said. “That’s Peter Tischke to a T. That’s what we’re trying to build, and I think that’s what that group has.”
Tischke didn’t get contract offers because he’s a flashy defenseman, and that doesn’t figure to change in his senior season. Granato said the Badgers need him to be the hard-working leader he has been over the last two years, and the payoff will come.
Why is he at UW this year and not in a pro camp, trying to make a name for himself at the next level? Another year at the college level, with an emphasis on shoring up his play at the offensive blue line, will be beneficial in finding the right spot.
After almost having his journey take a detour three years ago, there’s more to it for Tischke than his future.
“I want to win with the guys because I love this group of guys,” Tischke said. “They’re my brothers.”