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Badgers Return Home For Hockey Day Minnesota

by Nate Wells / Minnesota Wild

Growing up in the State of Hockey is special. Heading outdoors, skating on a lake or heading to a park is something most who have strapped on skates in Minnesota share together.

“I grew up somewhat close to Lake Minnetonka. I have a few friends out there,” 2013 Mr. Hockey Award winner Grant Besse said about growing up in Plymouth and playing outdoors. “We used to go out there and mess around a lot.”

What separates the experiences and makes them unique is the location, the people, the atmosphere and even small things such as weather.

The same is true for Hockey Day Minnesota experiences.

Six Minnesotans – forwards Besse, Cullen Hurley (Eagan) and Joseph LaBate (Eagan), along with defensemen Jack Dougherty (Cottage Grove), Kevin Schulze (White Bear Lake) and Eddie Witchow (Burnsville) – play for the University of Wisconsin. They and the Badgers travel to Minnesota this weekend to face its Big Ten rival to the West on HDM.

For Besse and Schulze, playing in Hockey Day Minnesota is nothing new. Both participated in HDM games outdoors in high school. The first thing which came to mind for both was the weather.

That’s where the similarities end.

“I remember it was really warm out and the ice was pretty much mush,” said Schulze, a 5-foot-10, 165-pound junior.

Schulze, along with the rest of his Hill-Murray team, traveled up to Moorhead in 2011. Then a high school senior, he assisted on the winning goal against the host Spuds although the weather with above-freezing February temperatures was far from the frozen backyard rink in White Bear Lake he grew up with. (Hill-Murray will get another HDM chance in Saint Paul under hopefully better weather Saturday when the Pioneers face Jack Dougherty’s former school, St. Thomas Academy.)

Despite the conditions, Schulze wouldn’t trade the experience of a game outdoors.

“It was awesome,” he said. “I think it was the first time since I had played in youth hockey that I played outside. It was a really good experience.”

Besse, meanwhile, played in weather more fit for a Minnesota outdoor hockey showcase.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that it was cold and very snowy,” said the sophomore, second on the Badgers in scoring with 8 points in 16 games, about playing in 2013 Hockey Day Minnesota. “We had like coats on the bench and stuff, putting our hands where it was warmer.”

Besse and Benilde-St. Margaret’s braved the bitter cold in Grand Rapids against the Thunderhawks, which featured Wild draft pick (and 2014 Mr. Hockey) Avery Peterson along with current Gopher Jake Bischoff. Hats, coats, gloves, layers and snowmobiles were everywhere on Lake Pokegama that day. Playing on an “old school” rink without boards and a fence behind the net, the hosts were victorious 3-2 thanks to two goals from Peterson and an overtime winner by Cody Mann.

Besse finished his high school career with a Class AA championship and 163 goals in four seasons. Last month, Benilde acknowledged his accomplishments by retiring Besse’s No. 12.

It’s an event the college sophomore said he had to view on video second-hand in Wisconsin thanks to having one last final exam.

Instead, Besse, Schulze and the rest of the Badgers head to the State of Hockey this weekend for business. Playing at Mariucci Arena means the Minnesotans can play in front of family and friends. They will see friendly faces and former teammates on the other side of the ice.

This season has been rough for Wisconsin. The team’s 2-12-2 record is not what anyone expected even with 13 freshmen replacing key seniors and early departures. Although the last two weekends have seen progress against top-five teams, including a 2-0 win against then-number 5 ranked Michigan Tech on Jan. 3, constant struggles throughout the ice leaves it searching to find a new beginning in Big Ten conference play.

Regardless, in trying to reinvent themselves the Badgers will remember the uniqueness of their Hockey Day Minnesota experience indoors this weekend against the Gophers if the past is any indication.

“It’s always fun to play in Minnesota,” Schulze said. “I like playing at Mariucci. I played there a couple times when I was younger so it’s always fun going home.”

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