Some extra notes before the 17th-ranked University of Wisconsin men's hockey team opens a Big Ten Conference series against No. 12 Minnesota on Friday (8 p.m., BTN, 1310 AM):
The last push
Associate head coach Mark Strobel expects that Badgers players know what's at stake in the final four games of the regular season.
The coaching staff will give them reminders, anyway.
"Second or third place, home ice is very important here in the next three weekends for us, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota," Strobel said. "So we're all within each other. Our destiny's in our own hands, so for us it's just going to be maybe a little extra motivator to pat a few guys on the pads."
UW is in third place in the Big Ten at 28 points, with fourth-place Michigan at 27, fifth-place Penn State at 25 and sixth-place Minnesota at 23. The Golden Gophers, however, have six games remaining while the others have four.
The teams that finish second, third and fourth in the standings host first-round playoff series. The regular-season champion — Notre Dame can clinch that with a victory over second-place Ohio State this weekend — gets a bye into the semifinals.
In the PairWise Rankings, which determine at-large teams for the NCAA tournament, the Badgers are 18th. A forecast at collegehockeyranked.com shows UW having the highest likelihood of being 15th if it wins two of its final four regular-season games and 11th with three wins.
The Badgers are going through the final weeks of the regular season without head coach Tony Granato, who's in South Korea leading the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team. But players and coaches said they don't expect that to be a major factor.
"I think 'Oz' and 'Strobs' do a great job," defenseman Peter Tischke said of associate head coaches Mark Osiecki and Strobel. "I think we won't miss a beat."
Strobel credited Granato with setting the tone for the team's structure and systems, and he said it's up to him and Osiecki to provide a motivating factor to start with strong first periods against Minnesota.
"We've been inconsistent in that first period, and then when we play catch-up, we seem a little bit more desperate in the third," Strobel said.
Jake Linhart talks Senior Night
Defenseman Jake Linhart, one of eight Badgers seniors who'll be honored before Saturday's game, talks about what he's expecting from that experience and the series against the Gophers:
The Saturday night game at the Kohl Center officially sold out on Thursday.
It'll be the first sellout for a men's hockey game at the Kohl Center (15,359) for any of the current Badgers players. Fifth-year senior Tim Davison was in his first year with the team for the last, a 2-0 victory over Michigan State on Feb. 22, 2014, but he didn't play that season.
There have been 43 men's hockey sellouts at the Kohl Center since the Badgers started playing there in 1998, and UW is 23-17-3 in those games. Eleven of the sellouts have been against Minnesota; the Badgers are 3-6-2 in those cases.
Tim Davison goes through challenges
The Badgers were headed for a dilemma when JD Greenway came back into the lineup at the start of 2018: Which defenseman would he replace?
The three freshmen — Josh Ess, Wyatt Kalynuk and Tyler Inamoto — had played so well that they didn't seem like likely candidates. Junior Peter Tischke and senior Linhart have been anchors for the defensive corps.
That left Davison on the outside looking in for most of the second half of his senior season.
"It's been a little tough mentally," Davison said. "It's been a challenge for me. It's something that I'm overcoming. and I feel like, through everything I've gone through ... has made me a better person and a stronger hockey player. So I'm just trying to take it in stride."
Davison has been a healthy scratch in six of 10 games in 2018. But he has appeared when the Badgers have dressed seven defensemen, and he got the call last Saturday at Michigan to play alongside Inamoto when Greenway was pulled out of the lineup after a shaky performance the night earlier.
And Davison has stayed with Inamoto in practice this week.
The fifth-year senior admitted to bittersweet feelings about Saturday's senior night.
"I think it's awesome we're playing the Gophers on senior weekend with such a big series, especially with the way the standings are right now," he said. "But these have been five of the best years of my life. So hopefully we can get two wins this weekend and have a good celebration with all the other seniors and family and friends."
Before you leave
Granato gathered his players around at the end of Tuesday's practice before he left for South Korea and talked for a few minutes.
What did he say?
"Just keep it going," Granato said. "I mentioned that a lot of guys are playing their best hockey of the year — lots of our group is. And feel good about these challenges in front of us.
"The last three series, we played really good hockey teams. And the last three series, we should feel really good about how we performed. We didn't win all the games but we were in position to win all the games. Now it's keeping the stuff we learned in those series in our game and going into this series confident and ready to play our best."
Our Friday story was on Badgers senior Ryan Wagner, who has been hard to miss on the ice lately.
Also see the series preview.
In The Daily Cardinal, Ethan Levy writes about the importance of the Badgers not having the kind of lapses that have cost them games.
For The Athletic, Eric Vegoe digs into what's happening with Minnesota's sagging attendance.
The Star Tribune's Randy Johnson writes that, like UW, the Gophers are looking for a big stretch run.
Drew Cove of the Minnesota Daily has a look at Gophers senior defensemen Jack Glover and Steve Johnson.