With the Wisconsin men’s hockey team waffling around a 7-8-1 record with the injury bug biting hard, a bye week is a very welcome break.
But junior defensemen Justin Schultz and sophomore forward Mark Zengerle could not be more ready for another game.
“I would definitely want to be playing a game right now,” Schultz said. “I don’t like taking weeks off; I don’t think any one does. It kind of sucks, but it’ll heal up some guys’ injuries and get ready to go for Duluth.”
Despite fielding one of the youngest teams in the league, the Badgers boast the sport’s top point scorers in Schultz and Zengerle.
The two are tied for first in the nation with 25 points apiece on seven goals and 18 assists. Minnesota sophomore forward Nick Bjugstad completes the three-way tie at No. 1 with 15 goals and 10 assists as well.
For the youthful squad, Schultz and Zengerle are an invaluable pair.
“It speaks to their ability,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “It speaks to the load that they carry on our team. I’m sure they would much rather have our team higher in the standings than being on top because it’s a team game, but it speaks that they’re doing their part and carrying their load if not a little bit more. We need for them to keep carrying that while we get everyone else going.”
While the duo lead the Badgers’ offense, both of them have an astounding 18 assists, which more than doubles their amount of goals, giving everybody the chance to score.
Through 16 games this season, the two have a combined 36 assists with a team total of 96, which accounts for 37.5 percent of the assists.
Zengerle has what is probably the most memorable assist of the season thus far, on a spin-o-rama, sending the puck into the slot where linemate sophomore forward Tyler Barnes knocked in the shot.
The Rochester, N.Y., native simply likes to share puck.
“That’s how I am as a player,” Zengerle said. “I’m always more of a passer than a shooter. … When we’re getting assists, that means someone else is scoring, so that’s good for our team.”
But Eaves wants his starting center to share the puck less often and take more shots.
“They’re sharers,” Eaves said. “But this year, Mark has actually shot the puck more so his goal production; he’s actually surpassed what he had last year. … It’s gotten way better. We would even do drills in practice when Mark would come in on an offensive situation. We would take his teammates away so he’d have to shoot. He’s starting to get the message.”
And more than just a coach’s observations, Zengerle currently holds a 15-game point streak – a career best and the longest in UW history since 1990 – and is closing in on the program record 21-game streak set by Eaves in the 1977-78 season.
While Zengerle has emerged as a top offensive threat, Schultz has continued to remind people why he’s an All-American and has led a youth-ridden Badger squad by example this season.
“Just by example, he’s leading the charge,” Eaves said. “He’s maybe our mostly highly touted, respected player on our team, and he’s leading the charge on how hard we work. … He wants to get better every day, and because of that, he is the player that he is, and that makes people around him better. That, I think, is the highest compliment when you’re a player that makes people better around you. That’s a compliment not only to your skill and your work ethic, but also your character.”
Unlike traditional defensemen, Schultz likes to shoot the puck – as exemplified by the fact that he was most productive defensemen in the league last year.
Schultz and Zengerle have a combined 14 goals this season out of a team total of 52. The duo account for 26.9 percent of the season’s goal production, on top of the assists.
But between them, their ability to see the ice and how the game unfolds is what makes them dangerous and ultimately productive on offense.
“Their strength is being able to see how the game unfolds and then being able to dish the puck off,” Eaves said.
“[Zengerle] can control the game when he wants; he can slow it down,” Schultz said. “It just makes him so dangerous out there, especially when I’m out there with him; I know he’s going to try and slow it down and make plays. It’s really nice to be out there with him.”
The success that these two have had only shows what the Badgers are capable of and what is expected of Wisconsin hockey.
“I think that’s one of the things we need to do from the start of the year and show the young guys what this program is all about and teach them along the way,” Schultz said.