Ben Grotting and Blake Geoffrion:
Wisconsin’s Killer B’s
By Darren Lowry

On the roster of the defending NCAA men’s hockey champion Wisconsin Badgers, it does not raise anybody’s eyebrows that 12 players are from Wisconsin. Nor is it shocking to see that four are from Minnesota and three are from Canada.

However, it may be very surprising for some to see that the defending champs turned to two Southern boys for help defending their title.

Blake Geoffrion from Brentwood, Tenn. and Ben Grotting from Birmingham, Ala. not only play on the team, but have secured themselves a consistent spot on the team’s third line, creating energy, making hits and drawing penalties.

"It's a line that's very solid," head coach Mike Eaves said. "They can all skate, they have good skills, and they're very physical in their presence on the ice."

Blake Geoffrion, who is the grandson of Montreal Canadiens great Bernie 'Boom-Boom' Geoffrion, was the Nashville Predators first pick of the 2006 NHL draft after they'd traded the club's first-overall pick for Brendan Witt at the trade deadline. He's also the first-ever prospect to come from the Nashville area as a product of the Nashville Youth Hockey League. (Photo Courtesy University of Wisconsin)

Both are of similar build. Grotting is 6-foot-1 and weighs 192 pounds, while Geoffrion is 6-foot-2 and weighs 195.

Eaves said he’s been impressed with the contributions from the players.

"I think it's been a pretty good freshman year for both young men," Eaves said. "Ben came in as a pretty much a fifth-line forward, and he's played on every line that we have in some form or fashion because of his ability to skate and be a physical presence.

For his part, Grotting said everything has gone way better than he expected.

"I came in expecting to play half the games, and now I’m playing solid in the lineup," Grotting, who has two goals and an assist through 25 games, said. "I think I’ve improved quite a bit already and warmed up to college hockey."

Birmingham, AL native Ben Grotting has two goals and an assist through 25 games and has earned a solid spot on the Badgers’ third line. (Photo Courtesy University of Wisconsin)

"I came in expecting to play half the games, and now I’m playing solid in the lineup," Grotting, who has two goals and an assist through 25 games, said. "I think I’ve improved quite a bit already and warmed up to college hockey."

Geoffrion was more critical of his first year.

"I have struggled a little bit this year as far as points-wise," Geoffrion, who has one goal and three assists through 23 games, said. "It really is a tough transition coming from the national team. Once you come to college, every game is a big game. You can never take a night off or even a shift off, as a matter of fact. I’d love to play on the top line and be on the power play and the penalty kill, but I’ve just got to wait my turn."

Eaves said the reason for Geoffrion’s assessment is because of his background.

"Blake has come in and done pretty well, but when you come from [the USA National Team Development Program], I think your expectations are higher in terms of production, points, goals and assists."

Indeed, the players’ roles this year as third-line energy players have limited their offensive numbers, but have helped the team in other ways.

However, the Badgers have struggled to remain a top-tier team like last year, and at 11-15-2 are in serious danger of missing one of the 16 playoff spots.

"We have to start winning every game to make the push at the end of the season," Grotting said. "We’re a different team now, and everybody wants a piece of the national champions."

Interestingly, Geoffrion leads the team in penalty minutes with 58, while Grotting is third with 39.
"That’s the Southern aggression coming out of us," Geoffrion joked.

"They're not putting us in the hole in any manner," Eaves said. "If they take the odd penalty, we’ll accept that, because they need to play that way. They need to play a hard, physical game."

"If you’re hitting and playing hard, penalties are gonna happen," Grotting said. "That’s just part of the game. I think most of my penalties have been even-out penalties. Another one of my roles would be to generate penalties, and I’m doing a pretty good job with that."

Both players followed a similar path of leaving the South for the higher level of competition found elsewhere.

Grotting played in the youth leagues in Birmingham until he reached the ninth grade. Then he and his parents decided that if he wanted to have a career in hockey, he had to get out of Birmingham. So, at age 14, he left Alabama and enrolled in Shattuck St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minn. After graduating, he played a year for the Texas Tornado before being drafted by the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League. While there, a University of Wisconsin scout saw Grotting, and the rest is history.

Grotting said his background of being from the South drives him even more.

"I think it motivates me, having come from where I did, having worked as hard as I did to be where I am right now," Grotting said. For me, it’s just motivation to remember where I started playing hockey, and what I did to get here.

With Geoffrion, his decision to be a hockey player was virtually genetic. In addition to being the grandson of the late NHL Hall-of-Famer "Boom-Boom," his father Danny played for three years in the NHL. Additionally, Howie Morenz, Blake's great-grandfather, is considered by many old-time fans to be one of the greatest of all time.

Geoffrion said there was naturally a bit of pressure on him, given his family history.

"I try to ignore it as much as possible," Geoffrion said. "A situation like this year has been a little tough, just because you have a family that is looked upon so highly in the hockey world." 

Geoffrion played his youth hockey in Nashville before moving to Culver Military Academy for three years, winning one state championship.

Geoffrion’s time with the NDTP earned him yet another title, this time at the 2006 Under-18 World Championships. Geoffrion has already been drafted his hometown Nashville Predators, as he was selected in the 2nd round, 56th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Current Predator defenseman Ryan Suter played one season at Wisconsin in 2003-04.

When asked about his future, Geoffrion said it really isn’t his decision, it’s the Predators’.
"I’m not worried about anything else until things change or I get an offer or a phone call."
Grotting’s future is more uncertain, but Eaves said it isn’t out of the question that Grotting could become an undrafted free agent at the pro level.

"He’s shown that he has ability to think the game, and that’s gonna be a big asset for him."
Eaves said while Grotting and Geoffrion had to leave the South to get to Wisconsin, the way for other players from the South to make it to the NCAA Div. I level is to play the highest level of competition they can to get noticed.

"I think where we may see the growth they can get on a good AAA midget team and get to some of these Northern tournaments. I think we as a university and a lot of universities will scout those AAA midget tournaments, because that’s a pretty good level of hockey. If they get to that level, then they won’t have to leave home, because they can just play that right there and still have the ability to stay at home."

Overall, Eaves had nothing but good things to say about both players.

"In terms of size and playing and pace, and holding their own, they've done that very well," Eaves said. "Every day they get a chance to practice against guys that are bigger, faster, stronger. It allows them the opportunity to become that themselves. They're going in the right direction. When they become upperclassmen, I hope they are big time contributors and solid leaders."


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