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Todd D. Milewski | Wisconsin State Journal | October 17, 2018

College hockey: Wisconsin sophomore defensemen help spur Badger offense

Neither Wyatt Kalynuk nor Tyler Inamoto could remember ever seeing one of their game stat lines include a plus-5 notation.

It hasn't happened for a while with the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team, either.

Kalynuk and Inamoto, sophomore defense partners, were on the ice for five even-strength UW goals and no Boston College even-strength scores in a 7-5 victory on Saturday.

While as defensemen they were happy with the latter part of that equation, the work they did in the offensive zone -- especially from Kalynuk -- fits into what the Badgers need to see.

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UW coaches advertised before the season that their defensemen would be more involved in the offense, and it was realized in an opening-weekend sweep.

"We do a lot of shooting from the point (in practice), and a lot of it with pressure and a lot of it with traffic," Kalynuk said. "It's nice to get them through and reward our forwards for doing a lot of hard work down low."

Of the 111 shot attempts by the Badgers while the teams were at even strength last weekend, 43 percent were from defensemen. Last season's total was 34 percent.

Three of the four most prolific attempt generators at even strength against the Eagles were defensemen: Kalynuk had 15, Josh Ess had 10 and K'Andre Miller tied for third with nine.

The Badgers' hope is the defensemen will be able to get pucks through to the net, where forwards create screens and compete for rebounds. The plan worked well for the first weekend.

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UW scored five times off rebounds -- three of them on shots by defensemen -- and twice more off deflections off Boston College players in front of the net.

Kalynuk recorded his first collegiate two-goal game on Saturday with one of the redirected scores and an empty-netter.

He and Inamoto were the first UW players to be five notches on the good side of the plus-minus rating in the past 403 games, since defenseman Kyle Klubertanz in a 7-2 victory at Denver on Jan. 12, 2008.

"Those guys were solid, for sure," Badgers coach Tony Granato said of Kalynuk and Inamoto. "They made a lot of things happen offensively to be on the ice for five even-strength goals.

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"I think our defensive group as a whole, the whole weekend was really, really solid. I thought all the pairs contributed."

Inamoto and Kalynuk went through their freshman seasons without playing on the same defensive pairing even though they have complementary skills. Kalynuk has more offensive traits than Inamoto, who is more of a hard-nosed, stay-at-home type.

They're together this season because the Badgers are trying to find the right chemistry. Associate head coach Mark Osiecki, who works with the defensemen, said that process involves matching up personalities and communication styles as much as pairing skill sets.

The other duos so far this season have been senior captain Peter Tischke with Miller, and sophomore Ess with freshman Ty Emberson.

The Tischke-Miller combo offers another pairing of a defensive defenseman with a counterpart who has offensive abilities. Ess and Emberson are more of a balance, with Ess showing last weekend he'll be more willing to pull the trigger on shots.

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"They can fly under the radar, both of them can, but they both can provide sneaky offense," Osiecki said of Ess and Emberson. "And I think when one's jumping or getting involved, the other one's smart enough to realize and then he backs it off. They both can defend very well."

In the rankings

Last weekend's sweep of Boston College propelled the Badgers into the national rankings. They debuted at 15th in the USCHO.com rankings on Monday after receiving votes in the first two polls of the season.

That gave the Big Ten Conference six of the top 20 teams, with UW joining Ohio State (first), Notre Dame (second), Minnesota (sixth), Penn State (10th) and Michigan (11th).

UW was 13th in this week's USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.

The Badgers were ranked in the first 17 USCHO polls last season before dropping out after being swept at home by Minnesota on Feb. 9-10. Those were the first two of six straight losses to end the 2017-18 season.

This article is written by Todd D. Milewski from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.