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The upcoming University of Wisconsin men's hockey season will tap deeply into nostalgia and that's part of the grand design.

UW intends to celebrate so many anniversaries that Hallmark has offered to be a corporate sponsor and a gift registry has been set up by Jewelers of America.

I kid, of course, but between acknowledging the 50th anniversary of the modern era of men's hockey in 1963, the 40th observance of the first NCAA championship in program history in 1973 and the 30th anniversary of the national title won in 1983, there's a risk of us being overexposed to sentimentality.

That's because those three items aren't the only prominent markers on the path that will carry the Badgers through a season that begins Saturday night at the Kohl Center with an exhibition game against the Under-18 team from the U.S. National Team Developmental Program.

Some of the other milestones tower above the landscape. Some are curiosities tucked into the underbrush.

It's impossible to overlook the fact the Badgers are playing in their 44th and final season in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. They appear to have the wherewithal to leave for the newly sanctioned Big Ten Conference as MacNaughton Cup champions as well as reach 700 wins in WCHA play that dates back to 1969.

It's impossible to overlook the fact UW will dedicate the ice surface at the Kohl Center to the late Bob Johnson, who built the program into a dynasty before taking his trademark passion to the NHL. That ceremony will take place Nov. 2 when Colorado College comes to town.

More subtle is the fact the season will start and could end in the midst of two of Johnson's prime legacies.

USA Hockey, which is headquartered on Bob Johnson Drive in Colorado Springs, Colo., oversees the elite NTDP program that will be showcased here Saturday. Jim Johannson, the assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, and Don Granato, the Under-18 coach, played for NCAA title-winners at UW in 1983 and '90, respectively.

Any list of the great hockey families to represent the Badgers will have the Johannsons (Jim and John) and Granatos (Don, Kevin, Rob and Tony) near the top.

Meanwhile, the NCAA Frozen Four will be played in Pittsburgh. That's where Johnson won a Stanley Cup with the upstart Penguins in 1991 — becoming the only coach to win NCAA and NHL championships — before being stricken with brain cancer later that year.

Johnson's famous catch phrase "It's a Great Day for Hockey" adorns the entry to the Consol Energy Center — where the Frozen Four will be held April 11 to 13 — just as it hangs from a banner at the Kohl Center.

Pittsburgh also is where Johnson's son, Mark — now the coach of the four-time NCAA champion UW women's hockey team — embarked on his NHL career in 1979.

More nostalgia: The Badgers will play their final WCHA regular-season series at their former home, the Dane County Coliseum, due to a scheduling conflict with the WIAA.

Although hardly optimal, the series against St. Cloud State March 8 and 9 fits with the reminiscent theme. It's sure to rekindle memories of great games and extraordinary players seen there exclusively between 1967 and '98. It's sure to give volume to the echoes of a once-lively beer garden all those winters ago.

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