Freshmen lead UW to opening night victory

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger and Cameron Lane-Flehinger

At any level, and in any sport, how a team will perform in its first game is largely based on speculation. Before the game, even with seeing players in practice, it is impossible to predict how players individually, and the team collectively, will respond to live action. For the Badgers, their first game was no different. Still, despite game one being this team's first real action together, it was largely successful.

No. 12 Wisconsin (1-0) tried out a lot of new players and lines in its opening 3-2 win over Michigan Tech (0-1). Despite all of the new parts, however, it did not want to take this game as an “experiment.”

“That experimental thing I tried last year, and I realized when we missed by .04 to make the NCAA tournament that there is no such thing as experimental games,” head coach Tony Granato said. “These are games we have to win, and that was our approach.”

Even though Wisconsin was solely focused on getting a win, it did try out a lot of new looks, including playing six freshman. Even though UW has watched its freshmen through the recruiting process for years, it was uncertain of how they would respond to their first NCAA action. To Granato and UW' delight, overall, the freshmen responded very well.

“I thought [the freshmen] all played unbelievable. It’s tough to step in, especially at the Kohl Center. It’s a tough place to play your first freshmen game,” junior forward Will Johnson said. “Every D was out there taking checks and getting the puck out. The forwards were helping us out. It was great to see the freshmen come out and play.”

Each of the freshmen, including defenseman Josh Ess, Wyatt Kalynuk and Tyler Inamoto, along with forwards Sean Dhooghe, Tarek Baker and Linus Weissbach did something really well. Ess broke up a two-on-one, Kalynuk had a huge block in the first, Inamoto pinched really intelligently at the blue line, Dhooghe had a block to end a penalty kill and Baker had a nice hit to end a Michigan Tech attack (and then, to top that shift off, a nifty toe drag and a quality shot on goal).

Weissbach, though, made the biggest impact of all of the freshmen, scoring two goals including the eventual beauty of a game winner.

“It was a great play by Wags [Ryan Wagner] there. He made a great pass and I kind of just shot it,” Weissbach said. “I kind of saw him sliding over and I just tried to fire it as fast as I could. Fortunately it went in.”

Not only did the freshmen seem to pan out, but so too did the line consisting of Johnson, sophomore Max Zimmer and junior Seamus Malone. Not only did they score a goal, but they filled each other's lanes, moved the puck fast and drew penalties.

“[Seamus Malone] is an unbelievable playmaker. Zimmers got wheels — he can fly on the ice,” Johnson said. “Getting to play with those two guys is really fortunate for me.”

The other combination that proved dominant in Wisconsin’s opening game was the powerplay unit of sophomore forward Trent Frederic, senior forward Ryan Wagner, Weissbach, Kalynuk and Johnson. UW went to an umbrella look(one player at the point, two on the half wall, two in front of the net) and tried to pass the puck across ice from dot-to-dot. They got their looks, and eventually scored a goal.

“[The powerplay] felt great. We’ve got ten guys on our power play that can move the puck great,” Johnson said. “It’s just kind of what happens what you get guys like that on the ice. It just clicks. It just worked.”

The Badgers had a lot of new looks in their first contest through the freshmen, the powerplay and different line combinations. And, overall, these new looks were ultimately successful. Obviously, after just one game, Wisconsin is not a finished product, but it battled and, most importantly, came out of its first game undefeated.

“That was a pretty solid game. It really was,” Granato said. “I told the players that it wasn’t the Picasso that everybody would like, but it was a hard fought win that we will certainly take.”

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