The 2011-2012 Wisconsin hockey season opener against Northern Michigan is less than three weeks away. For you that means it's time to start warming up your vocal cords and your arm for what is sure to be many sieve cheers after Badger goals. For us at Bucky's 5th Quarter, it means it's time to go in depth on this years Badger hockey squad and dissect this roster to try and figure out what the upcoming season may hold for Mike Eaves squad.
Thankfully I was able to talk five Badger hockey experts, one each from radio and television as well as one writer from both UW-Madison student newspapers and a member of the crease creatures into helping us out. They were gracious enough to give their opinions on a number of topics surrounding this seasons team from Justin Schultz's Hobey Baker chances to the possible distraction brought upon the program by Eaves being linked to NHL job openings.
The experts are Badger hockey radio play-by-play man Brian Posick, Wisconsin Public Television play-by-play man Robb Vogel (@RobbVogel), Badger Herald Associate Sports Editor Kelly Erickson (@kellyerickson4), Daily Cardinal Sports Editor Ryan Evans (@RyanEvans19), and our UW-Madison student expert Josh Rowles (@UWHockey016) who follows the team as close as anyone I know. We can't thank them enough for taking the time to help us out.
- 1) Current Nashville Predators forward Blake Geoffrion won the Hobey Baker for the first time in Wisconsin’s history in 2010. It seems as if the only serious candidate on the roster to contend for the award this season is junior defenseman Justin Schultz who was a top 10 finalist last year. Does Schultz have what it takes to bring the second Hobey to Madison or is it too hard for a defenseman to win an award that has been dominated by forwards in the past?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by play - "I believe Justin has a shot at the Hobey...but three players from his own league, Jack Connolly, Jaden Schwartz and Drew Shore could stand in his way. Justin's a smooth operator on the power play, but his production on the man advantage likely will take a hit with 3/5ths of last year's top power play unit now playing professionally. Four defensemen have won the award since 2002 (Jordan Leopold, Matt Carle, Matt Gilroy), so I don't think being a blueliner will be a deterrent. In addition, BC's Cam Atkinson and Jimmy Hayes, Maine's Gustav Nyquist, Merrimack's Stephane DaCosta and UMD's Mike Connolly all left school early to turn pro....so its wide open. *Keep an eye on Brendan Smith's brother in Miami. He had 28 G's and 54 pts last year while playing second fiddle to Andy Miele."
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "Yes. Justin Schultz does have what it takes to be at least in the Hobey Baker Award conversation and maybe even skate off with the prize this season. Past winners from the blueline Matt Gilroy, Matt Carle, Jordan Leopold, Tom Kurvers, Mark Fusco all have something in common with Schultz that will matter when it comes time to vote. All are skilled offensive defenseman. Like in baseball where being a good hitter helps you gain votes for winning a gold glove award, the same holds true for points and getting attention as a defenseman. None of those mentioned were the best player in their own end during their award winning season but they could get on the score sheet. Schultz is this kind of player. He'll make mistakes in his own zone but will garner headlines for his point totals. The only question I have is how much the loss of teammate Jake Gardiner will affect Schultz. Either way he will likely be in the conversation all season long."
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "I believe Justin has what it takes to bring another Hobey Baker to Madison. He had a very impressive season last year and this season I think he could surpass what he did last year. The problem remains that he is a defenseman and the award tends to be dominated by forwards, as you said. Looking at stats from last year Schultz had the most points for Wisconsin, which is unusual for his position. Last season Schultz finished as the only defenseman in the top 40 in the nation in scoring. I think he's poised for another great season, one that could potentially lead to a Hobey Baker Award."
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "I think that if any defenseman has a chance to unseat the recent run of Hobey forwards it is Justin Schultz. I certainly expect him to be up there in terms of Hobey hype this year, especially if he can match or build on his outstanding 2010-’11 numbers.
For me anyways it would be hard to overlook a defenseman that is far and away the most offensively gifted blue liner in the country right now and very well could find himself among not only the top scorers in his conference, but in all of college hockey.
That being said though I think it will be very hard for Schultz to win the Hobey this season. For one I don’t see the voters overlooking a forward that puts up 70+ points for a defenseman with 40-50, even that is far and away the most impressive total for a defender in the country. The other thing I think will hold Schultz back is that the Hobey winner almost always comes from a team that is among the top three in the country and I don’t see the Badgers having that type of success this season so his team may be what holds him back in the end. "
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "I think Schultz has what it takes. If there's any defenseman that can win it, it's him in my opinion. However, if I had to put money on it, I'd say a forward wins it. I just think he's very capable of doing so."
- 2) The Badgers will suit up one of the youngest rosters in the country this season as they only have one senior (Eric Springer) on the current roster. Junior John Ramage will captain the squad with another junior, Justin Schultz and red-shirt junior Ryan Little as his alternates. Do the Badgers have the leadership to succeed in the WCHA which year in, year out is rated as one of, if not the toughest leagues in the country?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - "I believe the Badgers will be fine from a leadership standpoint. John Ramage received solid reviews when he captained the U-S World Junior team last year. Justin seems shy, but really likes the college life and his teammates think the world of him. He also leads by his actions on the ice. The guys know how good he is, and that he could've moved on to the pros, but elected to comeback. And nobody wants to mess with Ryan Little. He will put the hammer down if necessary. I also think its helpful that two of the best captains I ever worked with, Adam Burish and Blake Geoffrion, spend most of their summer in Madison, training with and talking to the current Badgers. Both left behind that "legacy" of hard work and respect for all teammates. I think that rubs off on others."
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "To be determined. Leadership is such a tough thing to define and identify to those outside of the locker room. Are they born or made? Did the '06 win because Burish was a great leader or because they had a supremely talented team that had the experience, goalie & system to excel? Ramage seems like the quite type but thats OK. The leaders on this team are only going to be successful if they find a way to get the younger players to acclimate quickly and be major factors on the ice this season. "
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "Leadership can come from any where on a team. Whoever is willing to step up, from any position, any year, can lead a team. While Ramage, Schultz and Little haven't had these titles previously they've been on the team, been around their former captains and probably have had some leadership moments themselves. Every year there's turnover so leadership will most likely change hands. Ramage, Schultz, and Little are already fairly established leaders at their positions, they definitely have the ability to help the Badgers succeed this year. "
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "When Craig Smith made his decision to leave early for the NHL the sudden lack of veteran leadership on the team was one of the things that concerned me the most. The WCHA is an extremely tough league to navigate if you don’t have a strong veteran presence on your team leading the way. The experience of having been through the rigors of a WCHA conference season is key to a team’s success. You only have to look to last year’s North Dakota team for a recent example of that. Their core of veteran players made the difference for them and was a big reason why they lifted both the MacNaughton and Broadmoor trophies last season.
Wisconsin again heads into this year planning on giving young players plenty of ice time and for the team to be successful the young players that played significant roles last season—guys like Mark Zengerle, Tyler Barnes and Michael Mersch—are going to have to use the year of experience they have under their belt to step into leadership roles in order to help mentor the incoming freshman and lead them through the WCHA gauntlet."
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "While I really like the choices of captain and think they will be great leaders, I do believe the inexperience of a youthful hockey team will show for the first half. Not having a proven guy in net at first is a reason I feel this way. I like Rumpel a lot though."
- 3) Mike Eaves was once again linked to an NHL opening this offseason. Do you look at that as a positive for the program that Wisconsin has a coach who is looked at as NHL caliber or is it becoming a distraction since Eaves refuses to say that he wouldn’t make the jump to the NHL if the situation was right?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - "For anybody that knows anything about hockey, Mike Eaves has a tremendous reputation as a teacher and coach at all levels. That's why his name his mentioned almost every year for an NHL vacancy. Until Eaves has serious discussions with an NHL team, I don't see the annual rumor mill serving as a distraction. Prospective recruits know Mike's track record of helping prepare players for the pros...and not just top prospects like Kyle Turris, Ryan Suter or Jack Skille (who should've stayed at least one more season). Rene Bourque, Adam Burish, Joe Pavelski, Jake Dowell, Davis Drewiske, etc., all reached their maximum college potential under the guidance of Eaves and his staff. Top-end or lower-level recruits all know one thing when they come to Madison to play for Mike Eaves. They'll be better hockey players when they leave...and maybe pros."
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "I don't think the Mike Eaves/NHL talk has been or will be a distraction to this team. I see it as a plus since his credentials and success as a coach has created such talk. It a sense it's why at least some of the kids have chosen to bring their talents to Madison, to play for a coach and staff that has a track record of producing players ready to succeed in the NHL. My only concern is one that I've had for years now, to steal Mike Eaves words again "their virtue is their vice". They run the risk of becoming more of an NHL feeder program and less of a consistent winner. North Dakota, Michigan and Boston College have all managed to walk this fine line but having great "college" players mixed in with NHL type prospects. Mainly, smaller but offensively skilled forwards like a Ryan Duncan (UND). I'd like to see a few more of these types sprinkled in the UW roster."
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "I think it's a positive thing that Eaves is considered an NHL caliber coach. It helps bring a certain level of respect to Wisconsin and I also think it helps work ethic within the team. Knowing you have a coach who is sought after at the professional level can only make you appreciate the game more."
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "Right now the Eaves NHL rumors are really only whispers so I don’t think it is a huge distraction to the program but each summer it seems that the whispers become louder and louder which gives me the sense that Eaves is waiting for the right opportunity and when that happens he isn’t going to pass it up. So as those whispers undoubtedly continue to become louder and louder I think it has the potential to become a distraction to the team. "
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "I view it at a positive. I was worried that he'd make the jump this offseason, but regardless, the fact that NHL teams are looking at him speaks volumes of what he is doing. His ability to produce NHL player after NHL player is very impressive and we're very fortunate to have him, for however long he decides to coach here. Not going to worry about something that only Eaves can control. He'll make the jump when he feels right, enjoying what he brings while I can. "
- 4) With the Badgers losing Smith, Turnbull, Dolan, Johnson, and Murray up front there are a lot of goals to be replaced. Which forward(s) in your opinion do you feel needs to step up the most this season to replace some of the departed production off last seasons roster?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - " As the old saying goes, "All hands on deck." Losing double-digit goal scorers like Smith, Murray and Turnbull will definitely hurt but every team in the WCHA took a hit or two offensively. I don't like predicting how many wins a team could get or how many goals or points a player can produce, but I do believe Mark Zengerle can be a double-digit G-man (if he'd shoot more). I think Tyler Barnes can net 15 (if he shoots more). I think Michael Mersch can put a few more away, too. I'm excited to see what the freshmen can do, and they'll be relied on a lot. Joseph LaBate, Brad Navin and Brendan Woods are big guys who can skate and shoot. 20 points a piece, at least, from those three. Tyler Lapic and Matt Paape could do the same. Its time for Derek Lee to find the scoring touch he had back in juniors. He's gotta be a 25 point guy. I think Schultz will get 40+. I could see Simonelli get 5-7 goals (he's got a cannon). If Jason Clark can get back to full health, he could score 7-10. Maybe the Little brothers could light the lamp a few more times. It's got to be everybody!"
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "Tyler Barnes & Mark Zengerle. Maybe it's because my favorite player wore #7 during his career but Barnes is someone who physical talent on the ice caught my eye during last season. Strong on his skates, fast and skilled. At times he looked like a freshman but he's a player I expect to see take a step up in production this season. Zengerle had a great freshman season and given his playmaking skills I see him as a player who will continue to create for others. I like his game. I think he is the kind of college player who might not have a big NHL future but the Badgers need more of to win at this level."
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "I think that some of the younger forwards really need to step up this year. In my opinion, the more the younger forwards — such as Zengerle, Mersch and Barnes — can not only help the team this year, but also prove the Badgers are still strong and will continue to be in the coming season, rather than being continually stuck in rebuilding seasons. I think the forwards as a group need to step up as a whole. Sure upperclassman leadership is always something that is looked for, but at this point the team just needs to get goal scorer's on the ice."
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "The first name that comes to mind is Mark Zengerle. Obviously he had a big year as a freshman last season leading the team in assists but his five goals left something to be desired. At times last year he seemed almost a bit gun shy with the puck on his stick, electing to pass rather than shoot. The offensive talent is there though evidenced by his 64 goals scored in his two junior hockey seasons in the BCHL. He returns to his natural position at center this season and I think that move will really play to his playmaking ability and help open up his offensive game that much more.
Other than Zengerle I think his potential line mates Michael Mersch and Tyler Barnes will have to have big years—weird to think that they are two of the more veteran forwards for next season. Mersch played last season as an 18-year old true freshman so I think he will benefit the most from a year of experience. We saw flashes of the offensive potential that both Mersch and Barnes have but they will have to build on their goal totals from last season (Nine and five respectively) for UW to replace that lost production. I will really be watching Mersch because I think he has the capability to be a real force on offense. He has the potential to be a 20-25 goal scorer and I think we will see him start to evolve into that type of player this year as he will be given a bigger role.
I’d look for Brad Navin as well. He put up huge numbers in high school and I’m anxious to see if that will carry over to the college game."
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "I think Barnes and Mersch are the main players that needs to step up if they want to have a good season. I'd also like to see Zengerle develop a bit more of a scoring touch."
- 5) This will be the first time since I believe the 1960’s that the Badgers have gone into a season without a goalie on the roster with game experience. How concerned are you that Eaves is taking the risk handing the reigns to freshman Joel Rumpel right out of the gates?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play -"I'm not concerned...but I am curious. Its worked in the WCHA before, in fact, very recently (see Sam Brittain, Richard Bachmann). I'm confident one, two or all three of the goaltenders can win at the collegiate level...but I don't know when. Joel Rumpel has the size (6-3, 190), quickness, athletic ability and pedigree to be successful. Mitch Thompson was the team's most improved player last season (according to Eaves) and could get a shot. The talk of pre-season practice is Landon Peterson, the Oregon kid, who is quick, athletic and patient and at 6 feet tall has good size. If Wisconsin still had some of its big guns offensively, the goaltending wouldn't be as much of an issue. All three are in the same boat. Start with Rumpel then ride the one that's hot."
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "Yes it's a concern but as Mike Eaves likes to say "history tells us": Bruckler, Elloitt, Connelly, Goodie were all relative unknowns when they first took over between the pipes for the Badgers. All had success, Elliott even going from total unknown to a near Hobey Baker winner & NCAA title champ.The system is goalie friendly so that will help right off the bat. Still they'll need a good goalie to help the young team in front of him find their legs early on this season."
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "It's a little scary. You can look at stats and watch film, but no one really knows how well Rumpel will perform at the collegiate level until October 7th. This is still a risk Eaves has to make, he doesn't have much of a choice. Some times big risks can have big rewards. We can sit here and speculate all we want, but until the puck is dropped we can only hope Rumpel has great vision on the ice and can bring in some confidence."
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "Going with Rumpel right out of the gate is a huge risk for Eaves to take and the biggest worry I have for Wisconsin heading into their season is the goaltending, two freshman and a junior with no game experience isn’t exactly reassuring.
Rumpel put up decent numbers in his first season as a full-time starter in juniors but making the jump to the WCHA will be a tough one for a freshman goalie. He will have a huge say in how far this team goes this season. I think UW will have to get out to a good start to help build momentum and get the bad taste from the end of last season out of their mouths and the caliber of play they get between the pipes will be key to getting off on the right foot.
Teams need to have confidence in their goalie and Rumpel is going to be under a lot of pressure and we’ll just have to see how he responds. If he rises to the occasion the Badgers could have a rebound season and if he doesn’t they just might find themselves in the same position as last year, that is how important his play is going to be. "
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "I will admit I'm a bit nervous about how that will play out and I do think he'll have a few growing pains, but honestly I'm pretty excited about it. I really, really like what I hear about Rumpel and am really excited to watch him play for the Badgers for multiple seasons. I believe he'll turn it on in the second half and give us all something to be excited about for the following season. I expect him to be in upper half of goalies in the conference statistically. A big reason for this belief is the defense he has in front of him. I think they'll take a little bit of the pressure off him and make his job easier. So overall, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have any worries about it, but overall I'm optimistic."
- 6) The defense lost Jake Gardiner to the NHL and Craig Johnson to graduation but they add talented freshmen Jake McCabe from the National Team Development Program and Patrick Daly from Minnesota high school hockey. Do you look at the defensemen as the biggest strength of this years roster?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - "I would agree the defensemen will be the strength of this year's team. Schultz is a top-ten Hobey guy, no doubt. I really think Simonelli could have a heck of a sophomore season. He reminds me of Jeff Likens, with a little more upside. Ramage just needs to be tough, make the first pass and protect his goaltender. I really like what Joe Faust brings to the table. He can get up and go...which should add to the offense. I've only heard great things about McCabe and Daly. Watching them skate...they're smooth. "
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "It seems to be the case more often than not during the Mike Eaves era that the strength of the team is on the blue line. In recent years they've even upped their point production to become more of an offensive force. So if the backbone is strong again this season they'll have a chance. The rest we'll just have to wait and see. "
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - "I would have to say that the defense is the biggest strength the Badgers have this season. Led by Schultz and Ramage, with the addition of some hot prospects, Wisconsin will be strongest at the blue line. "
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "I definitely think that the defense is going to be the strength of this year’s team. As I said before experience is key in the WCHA and the Badgers’ blue line returns a number of veterans from last year and having a player of Justin Schultz’s caliber certainly doesn’t hurt. The group has a lot of talent and a lot of depth and I think they will be relied on as the Badgers’ back bone this season. They’ll have to lead the way for the team and maybe even bail it out every once in awhile.
I really like the potential top pairing of Schultz and captain John Ramage. I think those guys will work really well together and compliment each other on the ice to form one of the WCHA’s best defensive pairings. I think I have said all I can about Schultz but Ramage was the team’s best defensive defenseman last season and I envision him elevating himself to one of the nation’s premier shut down defenders.
McCabe is definitely the player to watch of the group. He is a well-rounded defenseman who is known for his solid defensive game but is also beginning to show offensive potential as well. He has shown the ability to move the puck up ice well to help create opportunities. I’ll be watching to see if he can continue to evolve his offensive game at UW. "
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "I do believe the defense is our strength, and the position that has the least question marks. Yes, we lost a huge piece in Gardiner. But I like the core UW has. You know what you're getting out of Schultz and Ramage. Solid performances night after night. I also am a big fan of Frankie. Like Rumpel, everything I hear about McCabe makes me excited to see him play. Faust and Daly need to improve, but I did like what I saw out of Faust. The defense has to answer to a few things, but I think we have a better idea of what we're going to get out of them than the offense and goaltending"
- Team MVP?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - Justin Schultz
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - Justin Schultz
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - Justin Schultz
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - Justin Schultz
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - Justin Schultz
- Breakout offensive player?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play -Tyler Barnes
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - Tyler Barnes
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald -Mark Zengerle
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - Mark Zengerle
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student -Michael Mersch
- Breakout defensive player?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play -Frankie Simonelli
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - Frankie Simonelli
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald -Frankie Simonelli
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - Jake McCabe
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student -Frankie Simonelli
- Where will the Badgers finish in the final WCHA standings?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - I say top 6. It'll be tough to crack the top five (CC, UMD, NoDak, Denver, UNO)... and I think Minnesota has a bounce back year.
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - 4th-5th
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald -6th
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - 5th
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student -6th
- Badgers play 34 regular season games this year. Over or Under 20 wins?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play -21 wins.
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - Under
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald - Under
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - Over
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student -I'll say under, I expect a decent first half with a fairly strong 2nd.
- How far does this team make it? Final Five? NCAA tournament? Frozen Four?
Brian Posick, Radio play-by-play - "I think with the youth of this team up front and in between the pipes....trips to the WCHA Final Five and the NCAA Tournament would be tremendous accomplishments. "
Robb Vogel, WPT play-by-play - "NCAA Tourney bubble"
Kelly Erickson, Badger Herald -"Out before Final Five."
Ryan Evans, Daily Cardinal - "Final Five"
Josh Rowles, UW-Madison student - "Final Five"
Again, can't thank these five enough for taking the time do do this for us, great work by everyone.
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Chuck on Twitter (@UWChuckSchwartz)
Chuck can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org