Morning skate at Michigan State

The Badgers men's hockey team skates Friday morning at Munn Ice Arena before the opener of its series against Michigan State.

TODD D. MILEWSKI, State Journal

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Some extra notes before the No. 7 University of Wisconsin men's hockey team opens a Big Ten Conference series at Michigan State on Friday (no TV, BTN Plus pay stream, 1070 AM):

1. Connected through the program

First-year Michigan State coach Danton Cole said it's a matchup issue whenever teams have to deal with Badgers center Trent Frederic.

Cole should know because he saw opposing teams try to counter Frederic's size and speed for two seasons while they were together at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program.

"Freddy's an outstanding player," Cole said. "He's a big kid ... with tons of skills. He was a real good leader for us when we had him."

Cole, who returned to his alma mater after seven seasons at the NTDP, had more to say about the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Frederic during his weekly meeting with East Lansing reporters.

"He just kept adding things to his game, kept adding to his repertoire," Cole said. "He was a good penalty killer. He was good on faceoffs. He's a really, really good hockey player and a good young man."

On the other side of the size scale, Cole didn't coach UW freshman right wing Sean Dhooghe directly with the NTDP, but both were at the program at the same time.

Dhooghe is 5-3 and 150 pounds but won't take the Spartans by surprise.

"We'll tell our guys, don't underestimate him," Cole said.

Cole also coached UW defenseman JD Greenway with the NTDP. Greenway, who hasn't played this season while dealing with personal issues, practiced with the Badgers for the first time since September on Monday.

Badgers associate head coach Mark Osiecki said there was no timetable on Greenway's return to the lineup.

"We're taking it day by day, just getting back with the team, back to skating and practicing," he said.

2. Checking in with Freytag

Matthew Freytag scored two goals last Friday in his return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the Oct. 28 loss to St. Lawrence. He talked about that and more in this video:

3. New look for power play

The Badgers have Ryan Wagner to play in front of the net on one power-play unit, but that role in the other grouping hasn't been as easy to fill.

Freytag was the next one to get a look in practice this week as UW shuffled some of its personnel.

The Badgers put Linus Weissbach and Dhooghe on the first unit with Frederic, Wagner and Wyatt Kalynuk. Will Johnson and Cameron Hughes moved to the second unit with Freytag, Seamus Malone and a rotation of defensemen Jake Linhart and Tim Davison.

Freytag scored twice in last Friday's loss to North Dakota.

"He's got a hot hand right now," said associate head coach Mark Strobel, who works with the power plays. "I think he's playing good hockey. And for me, that's going to be important, that guy in the net front who can deflect some pucks and make some plays and be that guy that takes a goalie's eyes away and can take the punishment in front."

Strobel said the player in the net-front position also needs to be able to work in distributing the puck from the side of the net.

4. Different blueprint for Spartans

It's one thing to engineer a 12-victory improvement in your first season when you have eight NHL draft picks, two of them first-rounders, on your roster.

That's what Tony Granato had last season with the Badgers.

In his first season with the Spartans, Cole has no draft picks, so the blueprint is a little different.

"We hope to get to that point" of having multiple draft picks on the roster, Cole said.

He said forward Patrick Khodorenko and defenseman Tommy Miller are potential draft picks in 2018.

The Spartans have had better defense and goaltending so far than Cole thought his first team would have. The challenge has been in scoring goals.

"We're trying to get guys that historically aren't goal scorers to put some in, and that's just going to be from volume," Cole said. "We've just got to keep putting pucks on the net."

5. History behind coaching absence

This isn't the first time that the Badgers have played without their head coach, and previous instances also have involved USA Hockey.

Granato is coaching the U.S. team at the Deutschland Cup, an evaluation event as the Americans build an Olympic team without players on NHL contracts.

His predecessor, Mike Eaves, missed four games in the 2003-04 season while coaching the U.S. to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. The Badgers were 2-1-1 in the absence of Eaves and three players who made the U.S. team.

In 1980, Bob Johnson left the Badgers team midway through a series at Colorado College to see his son, Mark, play in the final game of the Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. With Grant Standbrook and Bill Howard running the Badgers, they lost 7-6 in overtime.

In the Feb. 24, 1980, Wisconsin State Journal, Bill Brophy wrote:

"Johnson decided to leave the team and fly to Lake Placid in mid-afternoon after some long deliberations. First, the UW players met and voted to tell Johnson they thought he should go watch Mark play for the gold medal.

"Johnson then met with his coaching staff, but the deciding blow was a telephone call from (athletic director Elroy) Hirsch. When Johnson got the okay from Hirsch, he was gone and left Standbrook and Howard to run the team."

Linkorama

In our Friday story, the Badgers were looking at their defensive-zone play as a reason why their top players have experienced a scoring slowdown.

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.