They all resurfaced again over the weekend, this time describing North Dakota – the preseason pick to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship.
"The whole team is older leadership and one of the top five teams in the country," assistant captain Jake Gardiner said.
No.10 North Dakota threw its weight around like a squad with seniors occupying every offensive and defensive line and used those character traits to give No.13 Wisconsin a growing-pain weekend sweep with a 4-2 loss in front of a sellout crowd of 15,325 fans Saturday.
Senior winger Matt Frattin and sophomore center Corban Knight equated for all the offense for the Fighting Sioux, who have won four of six against three of the league's top teams.
"We knew there would be growing pains, but (we're) more disappointed than surprised," sophomore Justin Schultz said.
With 25 NHL draft picks littering the ice, the deciding factor wasn't one because of talent. The message was clear that it was about experience, particularly the defense of North Dakota (7-4-1, 5-3-0 WCHA) that features three seniors, three forms of captains and a moxie that allows the group to get to time and space quicker.
"It's more of a reality check than a jolt," Gardiner said of the weekend. "We played an older team … and they got the better of us."
Through a surprising start, Wisconsin (6-4-2, 3-2-2 WCHA) had put growing pains on the backburner. Its offense had been clicking (third in the country with 4.3 goals per game), the goaltending has been stellar (both seniors near the top of the list in numerous categories) and the youth had been playing with experience beyond its years.
That all changed in a humbling weekend. Not only did Wisconsin go scoreless for five straight periods, Wisconsin managed only 16 shots for the second straight night, its fewest since the 14 during UW Coach Mike Eaves first season in 2002-03, the lowest in his tenure.
"Some eyebrows had been raised by our pretty good start," Eaves said. "This is more of what I thought we would see early – our goaltending having to play well, letting us hang and try to find a way to win the game.
"We're going through some growing pains right now … so I am not truly surprised by this."
Trailing 1-0 early in the first, Wisconsin defenseman John Ramage finally helped the power play break through against sophomore goalie Aaron Dell (14 saves), rifling a missile into the net from the right circle at 4:36 to break a 0-for-7 skid for the conference's top power play.
As quickly as that problem was erased, the Fighting Sioux created three more.
A crossing pass by Captain Chay Grenoway was perfectly redirected by Knight into the top left corner of the net less than two minutes after Ramage tied the score at one.
After assistant captain Craig Smith was whistled for a delay of game penalty, Knight tapped in a loose rebound at the right post 19 seconds later and Frattin added a second goal 82 seconds after that for good measure.
"They made a couple costly mistakes and we were lucky to capitalize on them," said Knight of the three goals in 3:43. "There were a couple big-time plays by some players that made it happen."
It was the 5-on-5 skating, or lack thereof, early that was the problem for the Badgers. The abundance of time spent in the box kept Wisconsin's offense at a standstill, as the Badgers were on the penalty kill four times in a 19-minute span that handcuffed its offense, messed with its rotation and took away any semblance of momentum in a four-shot first period.
"We had to shorten our bench and that was part of conversation after the first to stay out of the box," Eaves said.
Frattin accounted for the opening goal, converting on a power-play sequence at 8:34 in the second period. Frattin took a feed from Genoway and, with Brad Malone screening the goal tender, beat UW senior Scott Gudmandson top shelf from the right circle, another example of a veteran team.
Danny Kristo appeared to deliver the early dagger when he steadied a pass off his right skate and threw a sweeping backhand past Gudmandson at 17:26 in the second, but video review caught glimpse of Derek Rodwell's right skate in the crease, disallowing the goal.
North Dakota would have to wait another half period before delivering the knockout punch and blocked 22 shots to keep UW at a distance.
"They two or three levels (of blockers)," Eaves said. "It reminded me of the championship game against Boston College. Our ability to slide a guy off and get open, I don't think we did very well."
Gudmandson deserved a better fate for the second straight night, stopping 39 shots and often sprawling, diving on the ice to cover up the lack of effort that infected his team throughout the weekend.
"It's not so much effort as it is heart," Gardiner said. "We didn't always give it."