If Wisconsin's Mark Zengerle and Justin Schultz thought they were going to cruise into Grand Forks this weekend for a series against North Dakota as anonymously as possible, they thought wrong. I suppose when you're both in the top five in the country in scoring 24 games into the season, it's somewhat hard to fly under the radar.
You can bet that Zengerle and Schultz will be well accounted for on their trip to play the team with no nickname. Those two players were major talking points in the media availability this week in Grand Forks.
North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol made it clear that UND will be aware of the pair anytime they are on the ice.
"Well, I mean they are very good players obviously. The amount of minutes that they play, in particular Schultz, I mean he's on the ice all the time. He's a great player. We have to be very aware of him, and it will have to be one of the things we defend well against Wisconsin."
Schultz, who hails from West Kelowna, B.C. has taken his game to an even higher level than it was a season ago when he was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker. The Junior defenseman is averaging 1.54 points per game in his third season in Madison, and is fifth in the country in overall scoring.
To put those numbers in perspective, Schultz's scoring average blows the last three defensemen to win the Hobey Baker out of the water. Jordan Leopold from Minnesota (1.09 PPG) and Matt Gilroy from Boston University (.82 PPG) don't hold a candle to Schultz's numbers. Only Matt Carle from Denver (1.36 PPG) is even close.
But as Badger head coach Mike Eaves said this week, it's Schultz's intangibles that make him special.
"First of all, the type of person he is. He is probably our hardest working if not the, if one of them on our team on a day-to-day basis in practice," Eaves noted. "And if you're a younger guy, and you're looking at this guy who is so skilled, and he's our hardest working, then I want to take that lead as well. So he teaches without even saying anything."
Just a sophomore, Mark Zengerle has elevated his play to become one of the most dangerous forwards in the entire country. The Rochester, N.Y. native is second in the nation in scoring and is just two points behind nations leading scorer, Jack Connolly from UMD.
It's clear to everyone that has watched Zengerle play, that he's a wizard with what he can do with the puck. So it should come to no surprise to anyone that he leads the country in assists with 28.
But as Eaves notes, Zengerle has the ability to read the play before it happens, which is a skill not many players at this level have.
"Well I think with the puck he is playing to his strengths and his strengths are his ability to see the ice, and he really has the innate ability to know what he is going to do before he gets the puck on his stick."
One of the players that will be in charge of keeping Zengerle and Schultz in check this weekend is North Dakota captain Mario Lamoureux. The Grand Forks home town boy is one of the best two way players for UND and plays with an in your face attitude that North Dakota is known for.
Lamoureux noted this week that UND will have to keep an eye on the dynamic pair from Wisconsin, but they can't get lost in focusing on the Badgers.
"They are definitely guys you have to focus on. Schultz is probably one of the best defenseman in the country. Zengerle is a really good skilled player. We've got to keep an eye on those guys but at the same time we can't get away from our game."
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