VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After an offseason that featured at least a small degree of uncertainty, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team made it to its first game with all 27 players on its roster.
Two first-round NHL draft picks, two players selected in earlier years who are just about ready to make the jump to the pros and a special talent who drew major junior interest factored into the Badgers not knowing for sure what the team would look like.
“Until you can finally get your team on the ice and play the game,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said, “you always worry (that) something might happen.”
Friday’s 3-0 victory over British Columbia in the first of two contests during the Badgers’ foreign tour was only an exhibition, but it gave more of a look into the kind of team they’ll put on the ice this season.
Having 2019 first-round picks Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield on the ice with Wyatt Kalynuk and K’Andre Miller — defensemen who could be starting their pro careers — and highly-sought forward Dylan Holloway was what UW hoped for all summer.
Here are three items that stood out from their first game together:
1. A versatile Holloway
Holloway was Canada’s junior player of the year last season for a campaign that produced 49 goals and 101 points in 64 games, but there was always more to his game than the stats.
A physical side, using his 6-foot-1, 192-pound frame, is critical to the freshman getting chances to score. He showed it a few times Friday. On one, he tracked down an opponent along the wall and won the puck. On another, he threw a heavy check seconds after having a shot saved.
“Not every game you’re going to score,” said Holloway, who did in fact score a power-play goal in the final minute of the second period. “You might be fighting the puck or something. So if you can play physical, too, it helps a lot.”
Holloway led all players with eight shots on goal while playing both center and left wing and with different line combinations. He was with Tarek Baker and Sean Dhooghe for part but also got a look with Turcotte and Caufield in the second period.
“He went out there and played against men,” Granato said. “That’s not a young team he’s playing against. You could see the hockey IQ that he had on the plays he made. You could see how strong he was physically to fend guys off.”
2. New technique
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Goaltending has been a major question mark recently, but UW decided last season to give then-freshman Daniel Lebedeff the reins, partly in preparation for this year.
The results were mixed then, but he had a solid start to this season Friday. He looked square to shooters and did better handling rebounds — or not allowing them — than he showed in his first season.
Part of the reason, he said, was the work he did back home in Finland in the summer. A major focus was playing more calmly and with better puck tracking.
“I think it really showed,” Lebedeff said after a 26-save shutout.
One new wrinkle to the goalie’s game was using more stepping with his skates instead of sliding. Steps can leave a goalie in better position than slides.
“It’s just easier to make saves that way,” Lebedeff said. “It makes the game more calm.”
3. Effort from Lindmark
Owen Lindmark spent the past two seasons playing at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program behind centers Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in June, and Turcotte in the lineup.
But Lindmark has an all-around game of his own, with a knack for winning faceoffs and being dependable. He put that on display in each period Friday.
He blocked a shot on the penalty kill in the first, part of a 7-for-7 effort by the defenders. In the second, he backchecked to pull the puck off Austin Vetterl’s stick as the UBC right wing was about to shoot from the slot.
He added an assist in the third, passing out of the right corner for a tip-in by Jason Dhooghe.
“The past two years, I might not have been able to show my true game, just playing behind three first-line centers,” Lindmark said. “So I think I’m just trying to come here and make the most out of the opportunity I’m given.”