During the 1977-78 Wisconsin men’s hockey season, former Badger standout and current head coach Mike Eaves had no idea that he set the school record for consecutive games with a point, scoring a total of 48 points in 21 games.
And until sophomore forward Mark Zengerle began approaching the record within the past couple weeks — and everyone began asking about it — Eaves didn’t know that he still held the record.
Currently, Zengerle’s streak is resting at 15 games, in which he has tallied seven goals and 18 assists. It is the longest streak by a Badger since Chris Tancill also had a 15-game streak during the 1989-90 campaign.
“To have a guy [break the record] here when [I am] here, it would be kind of neat to see it happen because you could shake his hand and say congratulations,” Eaves said. “If you weren’t here then you couldn’t do that. That’s why they keep records, so they can be broken.”
While accomplishing the feat would require Zengerle to force his way into the box score six more times, his level of play this year has been outstanding. And he may just get there, but not because he is trying to break the record — rather, that he strives to play well.
“It’s interesting; I don’t know if Mark is the type of guy that looks at that as a neat challenge,” Eaves said. “He just wants to keep getting points; [the record] is a byproduct of him getting points. If he is thinking about that record, then I think that will hinder his chances.”
Since last year, when Zengerle led Wisconsin with 31 assists, he has been focusing on improving his goal-scoring numbers and has found success, already surpassing his entire 2010-11 total.
“It should have been pretty easy to beat my totals from last year, which was only five [goals], but [Eaves] has done a good job with me, getting me to shoot,” Zengerle said. “He is always wanting me to shoot more and pushing me to shoot more. … I just want to score more; it’s a good feeling, but as the assists go, it will probably always be like that any year I play hockey just because it is how I’ve always been.”
Transforming his game has not been easy for Zengerle. During practice, he has been forced to do pushups when he passes up shots, and he has had to break down the way he has always played the game, forcing himself not to rely on something that has always been his strength in order to make himself a more efficient offensive weapon.
“It’s foreign to [him]; it’s a habit more than anything else,” Eaves said. “[His] first instinct, because he is very good at it, is to make passes. He sees the ice and he has had a lot of success passing the puck, but people are going to take that away from him and people have taken that away from him. Heck, we even take that away from him in practice and try to get him to shoot more, but he has bought into it. He is seeing some results from it, and I think he is a believer now.”
But when Zengerle does pass, teammate and fellow forward Tyler Barnes is more than okay with it.
“He is a phenomenal player with the puck,” Barnes said. “I don’t think there is anything he is uncomfortable doing out there which is a great asset to have. One thing I think of in particular along the lines of [phenomenal] is when he did that spin-o-rama backhand pass to me on the back door. I don’t think that is something I would dream of doing. For him to pull that off like that with success is good to see.”
With his humble team-first approach, Zengerle may not even be aware that the play Barnes described ended up in the college hockey section of the sports entertainment website Deadspin.com in October, displaying his often impressive puck handling skills.
As Zengerle creeps closer to the points streak record, it’s important to note that it isn’t just the number of goal scoring chances that Zengerle has improved. Along with forcing him to shoot more in practice Eaves has loaded him with responsibility.
“We have had to [ask him more of him],” Eaves said, naming a lengthy list. “We have asked him to go from wing to center because there is more responsibility in our own zone; he has passed that test. We have asked him to step up and be a penalty killer and he is doing a nice job there. We are asking him to step up and be our number one faceoff guy, and he is leading our team in faceoffs. The responsibility has grown mainly because he is a year older, but we have a young team and he needs to bear some of that.”
All the work Zengerle has done and all the responsibility he has undertaken, especially as a sophomore, certainly needs to be credited. What better place for this than the University of Wisconsin record books?
Zengerle may not be thinking about the record much, but would he think it would be cool if he broke it and it lasted 34 years? Absolutely.
“It would be pretty cool,” Zengerle conceded. “I try not to worry about it; it’s still a bunch of games away to be able to do something like that, but it definitely would be neat. I think [the fact that Eaves hold the record] kind of makes it extra cool or kind of fun.”