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World Junior Championships are painful reminder of Wisconsin's recruiting failures

Nick Schmaltz (Verona), Ian McCoshen (Hudson) and Will Butcher (Sun Prairie) are three of Team USA's most prominent players this year at the World Junior Championships. None of them chose to play at UW.

Verona native Nick Schmaltz is another local who chose to play college hockey elsewhere.
Verona native Nick Schmaltz is another local who chose to play college hockey elsewhere.
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Let me tell you a little something about myself: I love the World Junior Championship. LOVE IT. It's my favorite hockey tournament of the year. The Frozen Four is cool. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are excellent every year. But, I look forward to the World Junior Tournament more than any other hockey during the season.

Everyone loves the Olympics, because, well, who doesn't love rooting for their country? And I love that, too. But I'd rather root for 17-to-20-year-old kids who are still a little bit off the radar and trying to make a name for themselves over the millionaire NHLers throwing on the red, white and blue in the Olympics.

Wisconsin has always had a major role in the tournament, with players representing the United States or Canada on virtually an annual basis. The Badgers have been shutout in the player department this season, with their biggest hope, freshman defenseman Jack Dougherty, being one of Team USA's final cuts last week.

While Wisconsin won't be represented on the player side this year, it will have a prominent role on the management side. Head coach Mark Osiecki, assistant coach Don Granato and general manager Jim Johannson all won national championships at Wisconsin. The other assistant coach, Kevin Patrick, won a national championship as an assistant coach at UW alongside Osiecki in 2006.

It sure seems like a punch in the gut to look at the United States roster this season and wonder what could have been.

While the coaching and management ties to Wisconsin are fun, it sure seems like a punch in the gut to look at the United States roster this season and wonder what could have been.

Verona native Nick Schmaltz is one of the top offensive threats for this U.S. club. He plays college hockey at North Dakota. Sun Prairie native Will Butcher and Hudson native Ian McCoshen are two of the standouts on the blueline for the Americans this year. They play at Denver and Boston College, respectively.

That doesn't seem right, does it?

To be fair, every recruiting situation is different. Butcher reportedly went to Denver because his dad is good friends with former Pioneers' assistant coach Steve Miller. Butcher only played for Miller for half a season at DU after Miller decided to take the head coaching job for the Madison Capitols (a job he ended up quitting before the first game).

Schmaltz wasn't even really recruited by Wisconsin, from what I know, after the fallout from his older brother. If you don't remember, Nick's older brother, Jordan, committed to Wisconsin as a 14-year-old defenseman. Jordan later backed out and went to North Dakota after Osiecki left the Badgers to take the head coaching job at Ohio State.

McCoshen is more of a puzzling case, as he listed Wisconsin as one of his final four schools during his recruitment along with North Dakota, Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota Duluth. He later eliminated the Badgers and added Boston College, before settling on the Eagles for his final destination.

I can't help but wonder if all three players would be at Wisconsin if Mike Eaves didn't flub his assistant coaching hire of former Minnesota defenseman Bill Butters after Osiecki left for Ohio State. It was a questionable hire when it was made, it was a disastrous hire after he quit the team six games into the 2012-13 season and it's still puzzling today.

When Butters was brought on board in 2010 by Eaves, he hadn't coached at the Division I level since 1995 when he was at Minnesota and hadn't coached hockey at all since 2002, when he was behind the bench of White Bear Lake high school in Minnesota.

One particular quote from the Wisconsin State Journal stood out after Butters was hired by Eaves to replace Osiecki, who was widely regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the sport.

When Eaves pursued and ultimately offered Butters the job, Butters jokingly replied: "I hope this isn't suicide for you."


Jordan Schmaltz, who is now a junior at North Dakota and was later a first-round NHL Draft selection by the St. Louis Blues, didn't decommit immediately after Osiecki left to coach the Buckeyes. He waited to see who Wisconsin would hire to replace Oz. Just weeks after Butters was brought on board, Schmaltz decided to go in another direction. Do you blame him?

After that, there was no chance his brother, Nick, was ever going to play for the hometown Badgers.

Both McCoshen and Butcher were going through the recruiting process at the same time. McCoshen committed to Boston College just two days after Butters resigned at Wisconsin, although the Badgers had been eliminated from contention for months. Butcher committed to Denver the previous September, almost exactly half-way through the Bill Butters experiment in Madison.

You can't help but wonder if Butters was up to the recruiting challenge for the position. After being away from Division I recruiting for 15 years, Butters' major role was with Hockey Ministries. If you're recruiting 14-to-19-year-old kids, is the best man for the job a guy who has been going around the country spreading the word of God for the past eight years? I have nothing wrong with religion, but it's hard not to wonder if there was a significant disconnect between Butters and some of the players he may have been pursuing on the recruiting trail after being out of the game so long.

Would Butcher and McCoshen have given Wisconsin a stronger look if Butters wasn't the lead recruiter? That's impossible to say. But in this case, he didn't get the job done on two in-state kids that Wisconsin needs to land. And the Badgers are still paying for it today.

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