The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is getting out of town today to absorb some NHL activities and practice at the site of this season’s ultimate goal.
The Badgers are getting ice time today at the United Center in Chicago, the venue for the 2017 Frozen Four, after they watch morning skates for the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings.
The UW coaching staff has connections to both organizations. Tony Granato spent the previous two seasons as a Red Wings assistant and was an assistant under current Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville for three seasons in Colorado.
Badgers associate head coach Mark Osiecki had the same title for Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate in Rockford for the previous three seasons.
The college hockey season wraps up at the United Center on April 6 and 8, though the Badgers have a lot of work to do to even qualify for the NCAA tournament.
They’re 26th in the PairWise Rankings, which mimic the selection process for at-large teams in the 16-team NCAA tournament. They also could make the field by getting the Big Ten Conference’s automatic bid for winning the league’s postseason tournament.
UW players don’t return to classes until Jan. 17, and the team doesn’t play again until hosting Minnesota on Jan. 20 and 21.
“We were looking for something different to do because there’s no school,” Granato said. “It happened to be Detroit in town. ... This timing was perfect.”
The Badgers have a team dinner planned at an Italian restaurant in Chicago before returning to the United Center for tonight’s Blackhawks-Red Wings game.
Short-handed defense perseveres vs. Spartans
The Badgers had their best defensive weekend of the season — at least in terms of the number of goals allowed — against Michigan State.
They had to do it with one defenseman out of the lineup for a majority of the series.
An injury took JD Greenway out for the final 39 minutes, 11 seconds on Friday and an ejection removed Tim Davison for the last 30:52 on Saturday.
Top defensive pairing Peter Tischke and Jake Linhart got called on for a higher number of minutes as a result.
“They were outstanding,” Granato said.
With the Badgers outscoring the Spartans 10-2 in the series, Tischke and Linhart enjoyed some gaudy offensive stats as well.
Tischke had a goal and was plus-4 on Saturday. Linhart scored Friday and was plus-2 in each game.
Granato said all of the defensemen needed to be sharp after regular defensive pairs were disrupted. Forwards also had to be cognizant of defensive responsibilities.
“When you go short like that two nights in a row, that’s a pretty good task, especially with how hard they forecheck,” Granato said, “and they were great.”
Optimistic on Greenway
The Badgers are optimistic Greenway won’t miss another game because of the injury he suffered on Friday.
Granato said Monday the team continues to hope Greenway, a freshman who had played in the first 17 games of the season, will return in time for the Minnesota series.
After being tripped on a rush into the offensive zone early in the second period Friday, Greenway crashed into the boards behind the Michigan State net. He skated to the locker room favoring his left arm.
He wasn’t in the lineup Saturday but could return to practice later this week, Granato said.
The announced crowd of 11,719 at Saturday’s game was the second-largest attendance for a men’s hockey game at the Kohl Center in the past two seasons.
In 28 regular-season home games since the start of the 2015-16 season, the only larger crowd was 13,616 for a game against Minnesota on Jan. 23, 2016.
Saturday’s crowd raised this season’s average attendance to 8,775 in 10 home games. At this point last season, it was 7,858 through eight games.