The success of the 2011-12 UW Badgers will be dictated by the success of junior defenseman Justin Schultz and sophomore forward Mark Zengerle with the combined play of incoming freshmen looking to make an impact.
Schultz has not just been one of the best for the Badgers, but he has been one of the best in the Nation. After being honored with multiple Defensive Player of Year awards and first team defensemen honors, Schultz returned to Madison to continue to improve his game and chase a championship. Head Coach Mike Eaves is excited about the return of Schultz.
“When you get one of the better, best players in college hockey back, it certainly boosts your blue line,” Eaves said in his first press conference of the season. “We know that he's going to be the quarterback of our power play, and so there's some sense of peace with that.”
As good as Schultz is, both he and Eaves see room for improvement in the young defenseman’s game.
“The nice thing I like about Justin is that he's pretty honest with himself. The two things that he sees in being able to come back is the ability to improve his strength, to play better without the puck,” Eaves said. “He's a young man that when he makes that step, he wants to make that step right to the show.”
Schultz is joined at the blue line with junior forward John Ramage, who is also the captain of the young Badgers team. Ramage has three career goals to go along with his 20 assists. Besides leading the Badgers, Ramage also captained Team USA in the International Ice Hockey Federation tournament to a bronze medal in early 2011.
Ramage also has successful hockey in his blood. His father, Rob, Played 15 years in the NHL after being selected no. 1 in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by Colorado.
Besides Schultz, an ever larger scoring role is expected from sophomore forward Mark Zengerle. Last season Zengerle led the Badgers with 31 assists while adding five goals. Zengerle joins Schultz on the first power-play unit. Zengerle was also third among freshmen in the WCHA.
Zengerle will be joined by fellow forwards, sophomores; Tyler Barnes and Sean Little. In 41 games Little and Barnes both finished with five goals and 12 assists. Junior forward Derek Lee also provides scoring after tallying four goals and 22 assists in his first two years as a Badger.
The Badgers will also welcome the return of sophomore forward Jason Clark. Clark playing in just 14 games last year due to injury, but Eaves has Clark going all out and doesn’t expects him to be limited this season.
“He's full bore. He’s been involved in our contact drills now and scrimmages,” Eaves said. “There have been no issues at all. So what he's trying to do now is work his way back into the lineup and trying to get to higher levels every day, every week.”
Also worth noting freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel will start in the net according to Eaves at Monday’s press conference.