Six of the seven freshmen joining the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team this season got to campus in June, ready for a summer session of classes and workouts to ease the transition to college.
And then there’s Linus Weissbach, whose school admission was delayed until the fall semester. The winger from Sweden was more than two months behind his classmates when he arrived in Madison in late August.
The first months of a new experience such as college can be disorienting. Not so for Weissbach, who said the transition hasn’t been too bad.
That has been especially true on the ice, where Weissbach has turned heads with high-level speed and puck-handling. The two goals he scored in Sunday’s season-opening victory over Michigan Tech only continued the early signs that the rookie could be an offensive force.
Any concerns about Weissbach playing catch-up to the other freshmen seem unfounded at this point.
“It doesn’t look like he wasn’t here this summer,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said. “It kind of feels like he’s been here for a lot longer time than the last month.”
Weissbach’s introduction to college hockey continues tonight and Saturday when the 12th-ranked Badgers host No. 19 Ohio State at the Kohl Center in the opening series of the Big Ten Conference schedule.
The changes he’s faced recently might not be particularly daunting to him because of the experiences he gained last season in adjusting to a new style, a new country and a new language.
Weissbach grew up playing for the well-known Frolunda program in his hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden, until he packed his bags for America and the United States Hockey League in 2016.
He said he mentally prepared himself for a faster game on smaller North American rinks than he grew up playing on but found that, at its core, hockey is the same no matter where it’s played.
A caring billet family while he played for the Tri-City Storm eased the transition to the U.S., and speaking English doesn’t sound foreign to Weissbach.
“I think last year was good in the way that I got to spend some time away from home and got to do all that and obviously play hockey, which is what I love to do,” Weissbach said.
Until his season ended early because of a shoulder injury, Weissbach was one of the USHL’s leading scorers as an 18-year-old, which impressed Granato.
He ended up with 47 points in 49 games, including 10 goals in a 15-game stretch before he was injured.
When Granato takes that and what he has seen from Weissbach so far this season into account, it translates into big projections.
“We knew he could be an impact player, hopefully as big of an impact as (Trent Frederic) was last year as a freshman,” he said.
Frederic was the Badgers’ first-line center for most of the 2016-17 season and was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year while finishing second on the team in scoring.
“That’s asking a lot of him to do that because he’s a totally different player,” Granato said. “But what he adds to a lineup, not many teams have, that speed and his elusiveness with his first step on being able to break behind (defensemen). We have good speed. You throw that out there, that’s a different level.”
Weissbach was hanging out back home with friends in June, half paying attention to the NHL draft, when one of his buddies saw on his phone that Weissbach was a seventh-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres.
To hear Granato describe it, playing at the top level is a possibility for Weissbach, even at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds.
All you have to do to make the connection is see the path carved out by 5-9 Johnny Gaudreau, a Hobey Baker Award winner at Boston College who has made a solid NHL career out of being shifty on his skates and crafty with the puck on his stick.
Weissbach said he doesn’t like drawing comparisons to NHL players but confirmed that his game is based on speed and making plays with the puck.
He has already showed off those traits with the Badgers, opening questions about how high the ceiling can be for his rookie year.
Those will be answered in time, but Weissbach has helped himself by making the transition to college appear to be smooth.
“It’s a long way from home,” he said. “I think last year was harder than this year. That was my first time away from home and in a new country, new language. It definitely was hard in the beginning, but once things got going, it gets easier.”