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4 observations from the first 2 days of Badgers men's hockey practice

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Sam Stange

Badgers forward Sam Stange, left, carries the puck while Ohio State's Evan McIntyre defends in a Feb. 26 game at LaBahn Arena.

Saying that the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team took its first strides onto the ice without Cole Caufield and Ty Pelton-Byce this week wouldn't be completely accurate.

Yes, the two members of the Badgers' top line and national-best power play last season have moved on to the pro ranks, leaving big gaps to fill.

But there they were Wednesday and Thursday, back on the LaBahn Arena ice with the rest of UW's crew. Caufield and Pelton-Byce were among the former Badgers players getting in some on-ice workouts before pro camps start. (Craig Smith and Tim Davison also joined in.)

To an outsider, it served as a reminder of what UW has to replace this season. Coach Tony Granato has acknowledged that there's going to be a shift in identity without the dynamic offensive forces the team has lost, including Dylan Holloway and Linus Weissbach. How's it going to work? The Badgers have four weeks to put that together before opening the regular season Oct. 8 against Michigan Tech.

Here are some observations and notes from the first two days of Badgers practice sessions.

Centers of attention

There hasn't been anything resembling line combinations yet, but Granato is making mental notes of combinations that he thinks could have potential during drills.

UW needs to have centers emerge from a crowded pack of contenders following the departures of Pelton-Byce and Holloway — Nos. 1 and 2 on the depth chart at the position last season. Granato said there are seven or eight possibilities to play down the middle on four forward lines, with Tarek Baker and Owen Lindmark returning at the position.

See how Kohl Center staff build the ice rink that the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team will play on in the 2021-22 season.

Dominick Mersch and Brock Caufield have played center before for UW. Freshmen Caden Brown, Brayden Morrison and Liam Malmquist are candidates. Even Sam Stange, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick who scored six goals as a freshman right wing on the second and third lines, could get a look at center, Granato said.

What isn't readily apparent is who'll emerge as a top-line center. Blame the solid play down the middle from Pelton-Byce and Holloway last season for making it a tough comparison for those on this season's team.

Lindmark recovering

All 28 rostered players were on the ice for the first two days of practice, but Lindmark was held out of some drills. He's dealing with a lower body injury.

Granato said he expects Lindmark to be ready for the start of the season, but the team will be smart about working the junior back up to full strength.

Rowe stands to be starter

As things stand, sophomore Cameron Rowe is set to be the opening-game starter at goaltender. After that, things are up in the air and there's a possibility that another platoon situation could develop through the season.

Jared Moe, a transfer from Minnesota, replaced Robbie Beydoun in the corps of goaltenders that also includes third-stringer Ben Garrity. They all likely will get to play a period in an exhibition game against Minnesota Duluth in Chippewa Falls that's being planned for Oct. 3.

Granato is expecting goalie to be a position of depth for the Badgers this season. They experienced a turnaround in the crease last season after years of subpar play. The platoon that developed in the second half between Rowe and Beydoun was a contributing factor, but it will be hard to duplicate.

Granato hasn't been shy about shaking up things in goal in his five seasons at UW but had less reason to do so last season. Stability is what will win out for whomever provides it.

Speed and power show

Stange and fellow winger Carson Bantle stood out in the first two practices for speed and power, respectively. Baker, the captain, looked energized for his fifth season with the Badgers.

The development of Stange and Bantle are interesting pieces to watch with the offense this season. Stange had great moments in his first season but not enough of them — nothing out of the ordinary for a freshman. Bantle, a 6-foot-5 power forward who was a fifth-round draft pick of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes in 2020, never really got going in his one season at Michigan Tech and missed 11 games in the second half with a separated shoulder.

One of the recurring themes leading up to the season is that the Badgers need new sources of consistent scoring. Stange and Bantle are possible options.

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