When Linus Weissbach injured his right hand in practice on Oct. 29, the Badgers were 4-2 after a pair of split weekends.
The sophomore left wing had started the season with a good scoring pace, with two goals and six assists in six games.
UW initially expressed optimism that Weissbach’s absence would be brief, but that turned into five weeks and 10 games as the team slowly worked him back into practice drills.
As Weissbach gets back in the lineup for Friday’s game against Michigan State at the Kohl Center (7 p.m., no TV, BTN Plus pay stream, 1310 AM), the Badgers have renewed confidence after going four games without a loss (1-0-3, or, in the often-confusing Big Ten standings format of wins-losses-ties-extra points gained from 3-on-3 overtime or shootout wins, 1-0-3-1). But they also went 2-5-3 without him in the lineup.
Given the road challenges that the Badgers faced in that stretch, they may have struggled even with Weissbach contributing. It’s a question that’ll never have an answer.
The question that will get answered this weekend is: What kind of impact will Weissbach have in his first game action in 41 days? He had a point in five straight games before his injury and one of three power-play goals the Badgers scored in their Oct. 27 victory over Michigan Tech.
UW was just 4-for-39 on the man advantage in 10 games without Weissbach, and that will be one area to watch against the Spartans.
“We’ve missed his speed. We’ve missed his goal-scoring ability. We’ve missed his offensive play,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “But I think we’ve done a really good job of all four lines establishing how they play. You look at our last four games, you look at the four lines, how they’ve played, pretty solid positionally in both ends of the rink.”
Granato said he didn’t want to tinker much with the Badgers’ lines after UW scored eight times in last Saturday’s victory over Penn State. So Weissbach likely will dress as the extra skater and float between lines while taking a regular spot on the power play.
“He’ll play with a lot of different people on the weekend,” Granato said.
After this series, the Badgers have three weekends off to reset the lines for their return against Denver on Jan. 4-5.
Caught on video
Badgers freshman center Dominick Mersch chats about wrapping up the first half against the Spartans and about the success his line with Roman Ahcan and Brock Caufield has enjoyed:
Three more things
• It’s not official yet, but it seems like the Badgers’ game against Notre Dame at the United Center in Chicago on Jan. 20 would be an opportunity for the team to wear the third jersey that it unveiled on Thursday.
• The 19 goals that the Badgers and Penn State combined to score last weekend was one off the record for a two-game series at the Kohl Center. UW and Minnesota totaled 20 goals in a Jan. 30-31, 2015, series — a 7-5 Gophers win and a 4-4 tie. Saturday’s 8-5 Badgers victory also tied for second on the list of highest scoring men’s hockey games at the venue. The record is 15 in a 9-6 UW victory over UMass on Oct. 6, 2000.
• Will Johnson last Saturday became the third Badgers player this season to be plus-5 for a game. Defensive partners Wyatt Kalynuk and Tyler Inamoto both were plus-5 against Boston College on Oct. 13. Before that, the last time UW had a player reach plus-5 in a game was Jan. 12, 2008, by Kyle Klubertanz against Denver.
Put it in quotes
Goalie Jack Berry, on playing Michigan State:
“We’ve got a big weekend coming up. If we can do some damage this weekend, I think we’ll go into the break with a lot of positives.”
Here’s the projected Badgers lineup for Friday’s game:
Max Zimmer – Seamus Malone – Will Johnson
Jack Gorniak – Tarek Baker – Sean Dhooghe
Roman Ahcan – Dominick Mersch – Brock Caufield
Matthew Freytag – Mick Messner – Jason Dhooghe
Extra forward: Linus Weissbach
Wyatt Kalynuk – Tyler Inamoto
K’Andre Miller – Ty Emberson
Starting goalie: Daniel Lebedeff