Denver Series Likely To Be The All-American's Final Home Games
It's kind of amazing how spoiled Wisconsin hockey fans have been recently. The talent that has moved through the Badger program over the past decade has been amazing.
Guys like Ryan Suter, Rene Bourque, Dany Heatley and Joe Pavelski have become upper echilon players in the NHL. Recently, players like Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Kyle Turris, and Jake Gardiner have showed that the Madison pipeline to the league isn't going to dry up any time soon.
Wisconsin junior Justin Schultz is prepared to be the next Badger to carry the torch in the show.
The defenseman from West Kelowna, British Columbia is once again having an All-American type season, and is widely considered the top blue-liner in college hockey.
With Wisconsin's chances of hosting a home playoff series gone, this weekend's games against Denver will likely be the last time the Hobey Baker candidate will wear a Badger sweater in front of the home Kohl Center fans.
Schultz, who wears an "A" on his sweater as an alternate captain has been a leader on, and off the ice for the Badgers this season.
Badger head coach Mike Eaves spoke about his All-American blue-liner and what he brings to this program.
"He is probably our hardest working (player) on our team on a day-to-day basis in practice," Eaves said.
"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."
The 6'2, 185 pound defenseman currently paces the Badgers in goals with 12, and is second in points with 38 in 28 games.
Scoring is nothing new to Schultz. Last year in his sophomore season, Schultz topped all defensemen in scoring with 47 points in 41 games.
Schultz is on a historical pace this season. His 1.36 points per game pace is the exact same as Denver's Matt Carle in 2005-2006 when he won the Hobey Baker.
Earlier this season Schulz hit the 100 point plateau for his career. The last Badger blue-liner to do the same was Brian Rafalski, who happened to go on to a pretty decent 11 year NHL career.
True respect, is when you're respected by your peers. And judging by the comments from his teammates, there's no question he has command of the Badger locker room.
"I don't think he gets tired, to be honest with you. It's just so effortless when he skates, and the biggest thing is he's so competitive that he wants to be out there," junior center Derek Lee noted after a recent game.
"It shows every night. He's a game-changer."
It's certainly a treat for younger players on the Badger roster to watch him on a daily basis.
"I learn stuff from him everyday. He's a great role model in the locker room. On the ice he does stuff that I only imagine doing," freshman Joseph LaBate noted.
"He's a great player and he's playing at a NHL level right now. I'm really happy for him. He's doing great."
While Schultz will never admit publicly that he's leaving Wisconsin at the end of the season, anyone with any sense of the situation realizes it's time for the All-American to move on to the next level.
It's likely that the Anaheim Ducks who drafted him in the second round in 2008 will sign him when the Badgers season is over, and insert him into the lineup immediately.
It's my hope that the Badger fans in Madison this weekend realize that the special player that they've been able to marvel over for the past three seasons will be stepping onto the Kohl Center ice for the last time.
He's treated us for the past three seasons, I hope we can treat him to a sold out Kohl Center for his last home games as a Badger.
It's the least we can do.
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