Of the many things to watch when the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team opens the 2018-19 season Sunday in a 5 p.m. exhibition game against Victoria at the Kohl Center, many have to do with the Badgers’ freshmen.
A first-year player, Daniel Lebedeff, will try to improve a goaltending situation that has been in the doldrums over recent seasons.
A pair of rookie defensemen, K’Andre Miller and Ty Emberson, enter the UW lineup after being drafted in the offseason.
So it’s natural that the coaches will be keeping an eye on how the nine freshmen do in their first collegiate outing.
“Those are guys that have been committed as far as what they’ve done in practice and the gym to get ready for this opportunity,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said after the team’s practice Saturday morning. “So you’re just excited to have them have the opportunity to get in a game and play against another team.”
In general, the Badgers are looking to set a tone for the season in the exhibition contest, regardless of how the score turns out. Two years ago, UW defeated Victoria 10-1.
“We want to get off to play the style of play that we’re going to play all year,” Granato said. “It’s going to be energized, and it’s going to be four lines and it’s going to be a team that’s going to hound pucks and try to create a team that’s really good on the forecheck.”
It wasn’t clear Saturday that all 25 players will play; a few might be held out with lingering bumps and bruises. Forwards Linus Weissbach and Dominick Mersch and defensemen Miller and Tyler Inamoto missed some practice time this week.
The whole UW roster was on the ice for practice on Saturday, the first official day of the season. There are nine non-conference games on Saturday’s schedule, with another 16 teams playing exhibition games.
Granato said junior Jack Berry will start in goal for the Badgers on Sunday, with Lebedeff and junior Johan Blomquist following.
The top two forward lines have been established as Seamus Malone centering Max Zimmer and Will Johnson, and Tarek Baker between Weissbach and Sean Dhooghe.
The five freshman forwards have been working with three returning players on the third and fourth lines. The Badgers want to see more out of newcomers Mick Messner, Dominick Mersch and Brock Caufield at center, so expect to see them take turns with the bottom two lines.