The expectations were high. After committing to Wisconsin in the spring of 2010, Morgan Zulinick was supposed to team up with fellow rookie Nic Kerdiles, and excel right out of the gates for the Badgers as freshmen last fall. A fluke injury derailed that plan just four weeks into the season.
A collision at practice in mid-November forced Zulinick to the sidelines. He was supposed to return to action after a couple weeks, but the thigh injury he suffered in the crash never seemed to get better. Before you knew it, the season was over, with Zulinick never returning to the lineup.
One viewing of Morgan Zulinick is all it takes to realize why the Wisconsin coaching staff offered a scholarship before he was old enough to drive. Zulinick will never be the biggest, or the fastest, but he may have the best set of hands on the team.
That fact was evidenced in Wisconsin's exhibition game last October vs. the U.S. Under-18 team at the Kohl Center. After being sprung on a break away, Zulinick niftily tucked the puck between the goaltenders' legs in one smooth motion on his backhand.
"His natural abilities are his vision on the ice and his ability with the puck," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said of Zulinick at Big Ten media day last month.
After committing to Wisconsin at 15 years old, Zulinick spent two seasons with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League. In his final season, Zulinick led the club in scoring with 24 goals and 66 points in 57 games.
After playing in just seven games last season as a freshman and registering four points, Zulinick took a redshirt. He'll have four years of eligibility remaining at Wisconsin if he chooses to stay that long.
While he's a freshman in eligibility, the experience he gained last season on the rink and in the classroom should be a big boost for Zulinick, according to Eaves.
"Last year he got dinged up a little bit, so he's a little bit like a freshman in some aspects," Eaves said. "Not a true freshman, but a red-shirted freshman, which means he's been around for a year, and he should have a better understanding of what we're about."
The coaching staff isn't wasting any time easing Zulinick back into the flow this season, thrusting the Kamloops, British Columbia native into a top line role right out of the gates. Zulinick will start the season at left wing on a line centered by senior Mark Zengerle. Tyler Barnes will play the right side on the line projected to be UW's No. 1 group at the outset of the season.
"He's got to get on the ice, and he's got to be one of those freshmen that step up for us, and provides things for us," Eaves said of Zulinick. "You can tell he's been with us for a year, just his demeanor around the rink, in school -- he's taking care of business.
"It will be kind of fun, we're going to see what he can do. Hopefully it will be wonderful things."
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