Friday, January 20, 2017

Pregame blog: 3 Badgers to Watch + Minnesota at Wisconsin Line Combinations

It only seems like senior forward Grant Besse (#12) has been around at Wisconsin for a decade.

Maybe it's because former head coach Mike Eaves was fond of saying "young Besse" like Grant is an eternal sophomore. Or maybe that's because Besse, the 2013 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award winner, makes his presence known against Minnesota. Besse has saved his best for when the Badgers face their maroon and gold enemies. In his last nine games against the Gophers he scored a total of nine goals and 12 points.

One of those games Wisconsin was shut out. Otherwise Besse scored in every other game against the Gophers since his freshman year. Nearly a quarter of his collegiate goals have been celebrated in games versus Minnesota.

On top of Besse, who probably deserves more credit than he gets - it's unfortunate his tenure coincides with Wisconsin's downturn - two other Badgers to watch are sophomores Luke Kunin (#9) and Will Johnson (#17).

Kunin should be familiar. The Badgers captain (only the second sophomore to have that honor) leads the team in goals with 13 and has a local connection as the 2016 Minnesota Wild first round draft pick. Kunin makes his presence known on the ice and has a NHL -caliber shot right now.

Johnson, meanwhile, has three goals in his last four games to already match his freshman total (6G-3A). Along with fellow sophomore Seamus Malone (almost chose Malone for the same reason), he has made strides in year 2, becoming a bigger contributor at both ends of the ice.

Having all three forwards mentioned on different lines tonight is night and day.

Greetings from the Kohl Center! Tonight's game airs on Fox Sports North and FS Wisconsin beginning at 7 p.m. CT.

I'm covering this weekend's games for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Pick up a copy if you're in the Twin Cities. Also follow me on Twitter during the game @gopherstate.

There's a lot of pregame reading this week.
-For the men's team, I previewed Minnesota's "next man up" mentality after losing Tommy Novak to a season-ending injury. (Pioneer Press)

-For the women's team, there are few chances to write a feature on the two-time national champions trying to snap a losing skid. This was one. (SBN College Hockey)

-I also previewed Hockey Day Minnesota for

Line Combinations

As hinted this week, Vinni Lettieri gets the first crack at replacing the injured Tommy Novak at center. Lettieri spent most of last season at the role with Leon Bristedt, who moves back up to the second line to be reunited with him.

Taylor Cammarata is also back in a top-six role.

Freshman Jack Berry is listed first in goal for the Badgers

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers lines 
Rem Pitlick (#15) - Justin Kloos (#25) - Tyler Sheehy (#22)
Taylor Cammarata (#13)- Vinni Lettieri (#19) - Leon Bristedt (#18)
Brent Gates Jr. (#10) - Mike Szmatula (#9) - Luke Notermann (#11)
Connor Reilly (#21) - Darian Romanko (#26) - Jack Ramsey (#16)

Jake Bischoff (#28) - Ryan Lindgren (#5)
Steve Johnson (#4) - Jack Sadek (#2)
Ryan Zuhsldorf (#20) - Ryan Collins (#6)

Eric Schierhorn (#37)
Nick Lehr (#34)
Brock Kautz (#1)

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