Wisconsin opens its season on Saturday with the first official practice of the season. The Badgers also happen to play their first competition of the season Saturday, as they host the United States Under-18 team for an exhibition game at the Kohl Center at 8 PM.
Fans attending the game will be treated to a 2012-13 team poster courtesy of the Prime Quarter Steakhouse, in addition to a preview of what to expect from the Badgers this season. They will also see some of the top talent that will be drafted in next June's NHL Draft.
When it comes to all things USA Hockey, my go-to man is Chris Peters from the United States of Hockey blog. Chris litterally bleeds red, white and blue. I also heard he walks around with a bald eagle on his shoulder at all times. That's just a rumor, though.
So we talked to Chris this week to get his opinion on what Badger fans can look for from this Saturday's exhibition game vs Team USA.
Bucky's 5th Quarter: In my opinion, it's underrated how important these "exhibition" games are for the U18's to play against college teams in preparing them for the transition to the NCAA level. How much of an impact do you see from a USA Hockey perspective in regards to these games?
Chris Peters: I'd agree with you about them being underrated. I think the games against the NCAA schools are what separates the NTDP from other junior hockey programs. All of these guys are 17 years old and they're playing against men, essentially, when they play against colleges. It forces the NTDP players to raise their games and sometimes it doesn't hurt them to get humbled against these Division I opponents, because they don't win too many of those games. Playing against bigger, faster, stronger guys challenges the NTDP kids to be better. There's no where to hide in college hockey games, and no one will take it easy on them because they're young. That intense environment only helps spark development in my mind.
B5Q: Badger freshman Nic Kerdiles is a former player from the NTDP. You once told me that the program in Ann Arbor was "made for kids like him." What can Badger fans expect to see from Nic this year, and going forward?
CP: I mentioned Kerdiles in my Freshman 15, as one of the first-year players college hockey fans can expect to make an immediate impact. He's a true freshman, but he's got a pro-level frame and good strength. As long as Kerdiles can handle the little bit of adversity of being one of the younger guys on the ice, he should do well. He's not the flashiest player, but he's effective at both ends of the ice and should be able to contribute offensively. When I said the NTDP was made for players like him it was because he is clearly gifted, but he needed to be challenged and I think he got that. Kerdiles got better as the years wore on and became one of their most consistent forwards. Badger fans will like what he brings to the table.
B5Q: Will Butcher is a local kid from Sun Prairie who has (in the opinion of Badger fans) regrettably chosen to attend Denver in the future. He's one of the bigger names on this U18 team, what can you tell us about his talent level?
CP: I'd be disappointed if I were a Badger fan, too. Butcher is one of the better offensive defenseman I've seen at the NTDP in the last few years. He has terrific puck skills and is a high-end skater. He lacks size, but it's never noticeably hindered him any time I've seen him. Butcher is pretty smart most of the time, but isn't afraid to take risks with the puck. There's a chance he could sneak into the first round of the draft this year. That's how good he is offensively.
B5Q: A lot of us got to see how dynamic Michigan recruit J.T. Compher (pictured) was last year at the U18 World Championships. We obviously expect him to be one of the top players Saturday, but who else should we be excited to watch?
CP: BC recruit Steven Santini is another guy who could get some first-round consideration. He has good size, skates well and has added some nastiness to his game. Tyler Motte is a pretty gifted scorer and exciting offensive player. He's headed to Michigan next year, so he'll be a Big Ten opponent. Though both in the 5-6, 5-7 range in height, Anthony Louis and Tyler Kelleher are really fun to watch, too. Louis is headed to Miami, while Kelleher is a UNH recruit. Lastly, a guy Badger fans will probably love to boo is Gopher recruit Hudson Fasching (ed. note: are you paying attention student section?). He's a likely first-rounder for the NHL Draft and comes in at 6-3, 214 pounds. He's a prototypical power forward who hits and has some scoring punch. There are a lot of exciting guys on this roster that are going to receive plenty of draft consideration, so it's always interesting to see how they can do against a quality Division I opponent.
B5Q: It's obviously hard to make a prediction on a game like this, but what kind of expectation would you have for a game like this?
CP: I think this team is going to give the Badgers a good test, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's anything more than that. While this U18 team is awfully talented, they probably won't be able to match Wisconsin's physicality and goaltending has been a bugaboo for this U18 group in the past. I'm sure head coach Don Granato will be excited to be back at his alma mater and will hope for a spirited performance from his young charges, but with the Badgers looking to start the season off on the right foot, it should be a good tuneup for the home team.
Can't thank Chris enough for taking the time to do this. He seriously is one of the best guys in the business, and is always available to answer questions on players from all over the United States. Thanks again pal.
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