[media-credit name=’AJ MACLEAN/Herald photo’ align=’alignnone’ width=’648′][/media-credit]Though the celebration is still continuing for the Wisconsin men's hockey team, it is never too early to look into the future. And gazing into that crystal ball, the future of UW hockey looks good.
When questioned whether or not he thought that the Badgers could repeat as champions without him during Sunday's Championship Rally at the Kohl Center, senior Adam Burish boasted that he could see them completing a three-peat.
As much as it might have been the celebration talking and as hard as it is to win a national championship, his prediction may not be out of the realm of possibility.
As of this moment, the Badgers are only losing five players. Those five — seniors Ryan MacMurchy, A.J. Degenhardt, Tom Gilbert, Nick Licari and Burish — have been some of the most influential leaders the program has seen.
That leadership and mojo cannot be replaced.
However, their offensive numbers can.
Together, those five players accounted for just 36 of the team's 145 goals this season, a little less than 25 percent of the team total. And they posted a total of 106 points in their senior year, about 28 percent of the team's total of 378.
"It's tough to lose those five guys — those five seniors — they're unbelievable leaders," junior defenseman Jeff Likens said. "Tommy [Gilbert led] the D-core and Burish [chipped] in with his line. But we have some great talent coming in and nothing can't be done, especially if we can keep guys around."
Those guys he refers to are Robbie Earl, Brian Elliott and Jack Skille, who could possibly leave school early to join the ranks of the National Hockey League.
Earl was asked at Sunday's rally whether he would be coming back to try and earn a second NCAA title. Though he told the crowd he was planning on coming back, the situation is a bit murkier.
"Right now I'm coming back," Earl, who is a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, said after the ceremony.
The junior led the team with 24 goals and scored 50 points this season. He has 121 points through three seasons as a Badger.
Elliott, a draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, just completed the best statistical season ever posted by a Wisconsin goaltender.
Skille, the seventh overall pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in last year's NHL Entry Draft and Joe Pavelski, a draft pick of the San Jose Sharks are others that could possibly receive offers.
While it wouldn't be surprising to see one of these players leave early, it's hard to expect that all of them would leave. Either way, the Badgers have a great bevy of both leadership and talent.
"We've got a great core coming back and that's the sign of what the senior class has done and the culture they've built in their four years," first-year assistant coach Kevin Patrick said.
Statistically, the numbers are only going to get better for the players coming back. Ross Carlson showed what he can do with a nifty move against Maine and freshman Ben Street is still on the rise.
And players like Tom Gorowsky and Matt Ford should get their chances. There were just too many forwards for them to make the lineup every weekend, but Ford has a rocket of a slapshot and Gorowsky was always the last player off the ice after practice this year.
And these are all just returning players. There is also another quality recruiting class on the way.
John Mitchell has already been working out with the team, and will be joined by a triumvirate of players from the National Team Developmental program — Blake Geoffrion, Jamie McBain and Nigel Williams — along with USHL power forward Zach Bearson.
The Badgers will remain solid statistically.
Even more impressive is the leadership in the returning players that has been forged thanks to the senior class. Any member of next year's senior class — which includes current assistant captain Andrew Joudrey, forwards Carlson, Andy Brandt and Jake Dowell along with blue-liners Jeff Likens and Matt Olinger — would all be fit to wear captain's letters on their sweaters next year.
"There are a lot of guys who are going to step up and be leaders and there will be guys who don't wear letters that will be leaders for us," Patrick said. "That's a great situation to be in and it's exciting to think about working with that group again."
Patrick sure picked a good year to join the Wisconsin program. He signed before the start of the season and finished with a ring on his finger.
Who knows how many of those rings he will have by the time he is done here.
"I had the opportunity to come here, work with this staff and these guys, especially with the tradition of Wisconsin hockey," Patrick said.
"I came to be a part of this."