Goalie leaves Badgers to sign with pro team in Finland

The Finland native said the question of whether there will be a 2020-21 college season amid the COVID-19 pandemic played into his decision.

Wisconsin goaltender Daniel Lebedeff (32) tracks the puck as Minnesota's Blake McLaughlin (27) skates in to take a shot with Badgers defenseman K'Andre Miller hitting the ice to defend in the first period on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, at the 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. (Anthony Souffle / Minneapolis Star Tribune / TNS)

A tumultuous period at one of the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team's most important positions continues.

Goaltender Daniel Lebedeff is leaving the Badgers after two seasons to sign a two-year pro contract with HPK Hämeenlinna in his native Finland. He said the question of whether there will be a 2020-21 college season amid the COVID-19 pandemic played into his decision.

As a result, the Badgers will have a fully remade goaltending corps the next time they play. Jack Berry and Johan Blomquist were seniors last season.

UW signed Cameron Rowe and Ben Garrity to join the team as freshmen this offseason and signaled that it was looking for a change by getting in early on the recruitment of former Michigan Tech goalie Robbie Beydoun out of the NCAA transfer portal. Beydoun has one season of eligibility remaining and can play immediately for UW because he's a graduate transfer.

Lebedeff, 21, started 51 of 73 games over the past two seasons but had trouble holding onto the No. 1 spot. He didn't start any of the final three games of the 2019-20 season, playing only briefly in relief of Berry in a 9-1 loss at Ohio State to open the playoffs before being pulled.


In a Twitter message, Lebedeff said he didn't feel like he was being pushed out at UW with the addition of Beydoun. UW also has Germantown's Noah Grannan in the recruiting pipeline for future seasons.

"Coach gave me a chance to come back to fight for the position, but coming back just didn't feel right for me," Lebedeff said.

In 55 career appearances, Lebedeff posted a .892 save percentage and 3.49 goals-against average with two shutouts.

Lebedeff's deal with HPK Hämeenlinna carries a team option for the second year, the team announced. Before he became a star in the NHL, former Badgers defenseman Brian Rafalski played the 1996-97 season for the team, which is located around 60 miles north of Lebedeff's hometown of Helsinki.

The goaltending position has undergone a high level of turnover in recent seasons at UW, where the team save percentage has cratered.

Matt Jurusik was a late addition in 2015 when Luke Opilka shifted to major juniors in the offseason. When Kyle Hayton entered as a graduate transfer before coach Tony Granato's second season in 2017, Jurusik departed after two seasons and later played ahead of Beydoun at Michigan Tech.

Historically a program with strong goaltending, the Badgers ranked seventh nationally with a .928 team save percentage in 2012-13 and 21st at .918 the following season. They have been among the bottom 10 teams in Division I each year since, bottoming out last season at .887 (58th of 60 teams).

Granato said that Beydoun will get the first chance to start in 2020-21 and Rowe and Garrity also will get opportunities to play as UW tries to reverse course with goaltending.


"For Daniel's position, yeah, he could have found a way to be a No. 1 again," Granato said. "But he wasn't going to have the net like we gave it to him the last two years. It was going to be a competition."

The Badgers are headed for heavy personnel turnover as a whole for the third time in five offseasons under Granato. Nine players aren't returning from the 2019-20 roster, the second-highest total during Granato's tenure behind a 12-departure 2018 offseason.

Three of this year's departures were seniors. Four were early signings: Lebedeff joined center Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles) and defensemen K'Andre Miller (New York Rangers) and Wyatt Kalynuk (Chicago) in joining pro teams.

Forwards Sean Dhooghe (Arizona State) and Mick Messner (Merrimack) announced transfers to other schools.


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