One of the lightning-rod topics surrounding hockey recruiting over the past few years has been Minnesota high school star Grant Besse ending up at Wisconsin.
Eyebrows were raised when the Plymouth, Minn., native committed to Mike Eaves and Wisconsin in January of his junior season. Later that year, those questions turned to rage among many fans in the Land of 10,000 lakes, when Besse put on the performance of a lifetime in the Minnesota class AA state championship game, scoring five goals to bring home the title for Benilde-St. Margaret's high school.
Besse later went on to win Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award as a senior last season.
While Besse was always considered one of the top players in his age group, the Gophers never really made him a priority. When asked if he was recruited by Minnesota following Wisconsin's sweep of the Gophers Friday night, Besse said, "a little bit."
Minnesota instead went after -- and landed -- fellow state natives Hudson Fasching, Taylor Cammarata, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri and Louie Nanne. All five gave Don Lucia a verbal commitment before Besse made a decision, as did Floridian Gabe Guertler. Nanne has since changed his decision and will play college hockey at Rensselaer next season.
Wisconsin, however, did make Besse a priority. Besse first visited Madison as a freshman in high school, and the Badgers stayed on him throughout the process.
"I've always wanted to come here since I took my first unofficial visit my freshman year in high school," Besse said. "Nowhere else I went compared to the facilities here, the Kohl Center, the school, the coaching staff and I didn't see myself going anywhere else."
It's hard to blame Lucia and his staff for making the decisions they did on the players they brought in. Fasching, Cammarata and Kloos are three of the top freshmen forwards in the Big Ten this season. Lettieri is a talented player in his own right, and the grandson of Lou Nanne. Guertler's prospect status has taken a bit of a hit since he was initially recruited, but he still has the potential to be a top college player down the road.
That doesn't mean the Badgers can't be happy about having Besse in the fold. The former Benilde star ranks fifth on the Badgers in goals with seven, and is also fifth among Big Ten freshmen in that same category.
And while his play has been up-and-down in his first year in Madison -- all his points have come in home games -- Besse was very good vs. Minnesota this past weekend as Wisconsin was able to sweep the top-ranked Gophers.
Besse opened the scoring for the Badgers in the finale on Friday, and added an assist on Nic Kerdiles' game-winner in the third period.
"It's a pretty cool feeling," Besse said. "I wouldn't say I necessarily dreamed about this when I was younger, but obviously coming in to this year, I did kind of have this series circled on my calendar a little bit. I'm just glad we were able to come out of here with two wins."
Besse was also able to laugh about almost falling on his face during pregame introductions.
"I actually hit a c-cut in the ice and kind of fell forward a little bit," Besse said, laughing. "But if I would have fell full out, that would have been really bad because I probably would have slid all the way to the Gophers lineup. It would have been tough."
With Tyler Barnes missing his second consecutive weekend due to injury, Besse was paired on a line with Kerdiles and Mark Zengerle most of the series. That group dominated large stretches of offensive zone time in both games, creating many scoring chances in the process.
Besse started the weekend lower down the line chart, but was moved up by head coach Mike Eaves with Kerdiles and Zengerle early in Thursday's contest.
"In the back of my mind I thought, you know, he's a really good hockey player," Eaves said. "He has good skills, sees the ice, thinks the game well, being on a big sheet of ice. We started with (Little) there, but in the back of my head, I kind of wanted to give him a chance to move up and play with those kids, and he did some good things."
After Friday's game, Kerdiles talked about the chemistry of the line.
"Grant's a great player, he's easy to play with," Kerdiles said. "Obviously me and Mark have played together in the past and we know how to find each other -- we know how each other play. But, Grant really played a great game (Friday), he made it easy for me and Mark to get open, he got us the puck and he made some great plays. Obviously, on my goal he had a great play to me."
While it remains to be seen how the lines will shake out when Barnes returns to the lineup, it's clear that Besse has earned regular minutes in Wisconsin's rotation -- and that's just fine with the Badgers.
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