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The University of Wisconsin Badgers come into the NCAA season tied with the University of Minnesota Gophers as the youngest team in Division One hockey. The Badgers are bringing in not only one of the best Freshman classes they’ve ever had, but one of the best anyone has ever seen.
Despite being such a young group, expectations are sky-high for the Badgers. The young bucks have already made waves at training camp which prompted Associate Coach Mark Osiecki to acknowledge what a spirited camp it was this Fall.
“The competitive spirit that these guys bring every day, the character in the locker room. We just have to do a good job as a staff to understand what level they’re going to bring every day. You see the competition in practice, so we need to make sure we aren’t dragging it out too long and putting them in a situation that they burn out, or absolutely kill each other” he said with a chuckle. “They go at it hard; it’s actually been fun because they’re a competitive group.”
In addition to their potentially historic recruiting class, the Badgers will also have some heavy-hitters returning to Madison in defenseman K’Andre Miller who, despite missing time due to an injury, had an extremely promising freshman season that saw him record five goals and 17 assists for 22 points in just 26 games and Wyatt Kalynuk who finished tied for second in scoring for the Badgers last season. They’ll also have three of their four highest-scoring forwards from last season returning in Sean Dooghe, Linus Weissbach, and Tarek Baker.
The young guns are pushing the upperclassmen about as hard as you could expect for top minutes. Leading the class are first-round picks and former US National Development Team Program (NTDP) teammates Alex Turcotte and Cole Caufield.
Caufield, the NTDP’s all-time leading goalscorer, is coming off of a historic season that saw him set the program’s single-season goal-scoring record after he lit the lamp 72 times in just 64 games. The diminutive winger was selected 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft and is expected to play a major role right off the bat for the Badgers.
Turcotte heard his name called by the Los Angeles Kings’ fifth overall at the draft. He battled injuries throughout the season but still managed to pile up 27 goals and 35 assists for 62 points in 35 games. On many nights, when he was healthy enough to be out there, Turcotte was often thought to be as good and as important to the NTDP U18 team as Jack Hughes. Both forwards have already spent significant time practicing and playing on the Badgers’ first power-play unit and seem poised to be locks for top-six minutes.
Another Freshman of note is forward Dylan Holloway who is coming into his freshman year as a draft-eligible player due to his late birthday. Holloway spent last season with the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) where he finished second in scoring with 88 points, first in points per game and won the league’s MVP Award. Holloway is likely starting out in the bottom-six and will have to earn a spot at the top of the lineup, but he is immensely talented and should find his way as the season progresses.
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Forwards Ryder Donovan and Owen Lindmark round out the incoming Freshman class. Lindmark is a defensive stalwart who will make his mark immediately as he will slot into a penalty-killing unit. Donovan, on the other hand, is a lightning-fast skater with great hands and a lethal shot. It’s not likely that there will be much room for him in the top six when all is said and done, but after an adjustment period expect him to provide solid secondary scoring.
The Badgers will likely only have one season with this entire group intact as at least one, if not all, of Turcotte, Caufield, and Miller could very well be leaving for the NHL next season. The expectations are high for this group, but if the competitive nature of this group tells us anything it’s that they aren’t to be counted out just because they’re young.