Natural attrition is an inevitable obstacle that every college team has to go through. The Wisconsin hockey program is no different. This off-season alone the Badgers have already lost a handful of players.
In addition to Justin Schultz giving up his senior season to sign as a free agent with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, Tyler Lapic, Patrick Daly, and walk-on goaltender Mitch Thompson chose to pursue other opportunities at the Division 3 level.
The Badgers took another hit on Monday, losing forward Jason Clark. The Eden Prairie, Minnesota native has played in 35 career games at UW, registering two points through two seasons.
Clark tweeted on Monday night about how much he hated goodbyes, insinuating that he was possibly leaving the University.
Hate goodbyes. Couldn't admire more the character of my UW Coaches teammates and Academic Advisors. Honestly, thank you guys for everything— Jason Clark (@_Clark17) July 16, 2012
Messages to Clark were not returned on Monday night, however sources close to the program were able to confirm to Bucky's 5th Quarter that Clark is indeed leaving. The source said that team members were informed during a meeting sometime Monday that Clark had made the decision to go.
UPDATE: The University has confirmed that Clark has indeed left the program.
After a solid career at Shattuck St. Mary's prep school, Clark was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NHL Draft by the New York Islanders.
Due in large part to multiple hip injuries as well as a concussion last year, Clark has yet to live up to the hype surrounding his commitment. Last off-season Clark had double hip surgery to help correct the issue.
It's not entirely surprising that Clark has made the decision to pursue other options. The Badgers didn't graduate any forwards from last years roster, and lost only Tyler Lapic, who Clark was clearly ahead of on the depth chart anyways.
With the Badgers adding elite recruits like Nic Kerdiles and Morgan Zulinick up front, it was going to be an every day struggle for guys like Clark to find the type of minutes they were hoping for.
At this time it's not known what direction Clark is heading. He tweeted late Monday that he had driven home (presumably to Eden Prairie), and was looking forward to starting a new chapter.
Little tear shed on the drive home always helps. Excited to be home and start a new chapter tomorrow— Jason Clark (@_Clark17) July 17, 2012
It's possible that Clark could have signed an entry level contract with the Islanders. The 6'2, 190 pound forward recently spent some time on Long Island at Islanders prospects camp.
Another option is heading to Canada to play major junior. While it's rare for a player to play two years at the NCAA level and then play major junior, Clark does have one year of eligibility left to play junior if he so chooses.
Currently Clark's rights are owned by the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League. The Winterhawks are one of the few teams in the WHL who have been able to lure in elite American talent. Just a few months back they locked up Seth Jones who is expected to be a top five pick in the 2013 NHL Draft. Adding an over-ager like Clark would be another coup for Portland.
As for what this means for the Badgers? You likely won't notice Clark's loss this season as much as you might next year. Like I mentioned previously, Clark was going to be in an uphill climb against other left handed forwards like Michael Mersch, Joseph LaBate, Nic Kerdiles, Brendan Woods, and Ryan Little this season.
However, with Derek Lee and Little graduating after this year, and the possibility of losing a guy like Mark Zengerle to pro hockey, Clark's offensive potential was something the coaching staff was looking forward to.
Clark's departure leaves the Wisconsin roster at just 14 forwards. Standard rosters at the D-1 level typically carry at least 15 to add competition and deal with injuries.
Options to replace Clark's spot on the roster include moving Gavin Hartzog to forward. Hartzog started his career as a forward but experimented on defense last year. Head coach Mike Eaves had planned to move Hartzog back to defense full time this year.
Another option is bringing in committed recruit Corbin McGuire. Due to some concussion problems, the diminutive forward hasn't quite lived up to the expectations of when he originally committed a few years back. The Badgers current plan is to give McGuire another season in junior hockey before coming to Madison. We'll see if this unexpected departure changes that.
Bucky's 5th Quarter will update this story as more information becomes available.
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