The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team undeniably exceeded expectations this season, finishing second in the Big Ten thanks to a couple teenagers from St. Louis who spearheaded the nation’s eighth-best offense.
Those teenagers are freshman forward Trent Frederic and sophomore captain Luke Kunin.
At the end of the regular season, each ranked in the top 10 of the conference for goals and points. Kunin led the Badgers with 36 points and 21 goals; Frederic finished close behind in second with 33 points and 15 goals.
But aside from racking up points, the two have a few other things in common that set apart their relationship.
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Both Kunin and Frederic are natives of the St. Louis area, the only two on the team from Missouri, and they knew each other before coming to UW. Both were also members of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and were selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL draft (Kunin 15th by Minnesota, Frederic 29th by Boston), the only current Badgers to hold such honor.
“We grew up together in St. Louis, and we’ve known each other for a few years now,” Kunin said about Frederic. “We live together, too, so we’re just good friends, and I think that correlates to on the ice.”
Their chemistry does indeed correlate on the ice, as the two each enjoyed standout seasons with UW. But it may not be as direct of a correlation as Kunin indicated.
“He’s a better line-mate than he is a roommate,” Frederic joked. “I think cleanup-wise … he sets me up better on the ice than he does in the living room. I’m just messing. He’s good off the ice, on the ice. He’s a great person to be around.”
It wouldn’t be all too surprising if Kunin couldn’t quite keep up as a roommate, as the sophomore had quite the year on the ice.
After a breakout freshman campaign — where he was the first UW freshman since Dany Heatley to lead the team in goals — Kunin became captain as only a sophomore. The only other time a sophomore captained Wisconsin was in 1975-76, ironically enough by Mike Eaves, the man who recruited Kunin.
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The sophomore only improved this season, notching career-bests in points (36), goals (21) and assists (15) while ranking ninth in the nation with 0.64 goals per game.
“It’s been real easy for me playing with a great player like Trent,” Kunin said. “I think as a whole we’ve been pretty successful together, and I think a big part of that is how easy he is to play with. He makes guys around him better.”
Most seem to agree 19-year-old Frederic is a great player, and he has put together an impressive resume in his first season with Wisconsin to back it up. Frederic was the only unanimous selection to the Big Ten all-freshman team this year and was also the first Badger since Dany Heatley in 1999-2000 to win the conference Freshman of the Year award, ending a 17-year drought.
Frederic was also deemed the Hockey Commissioners’ Association National Rookie of the Month for February after leading the nation’s freshmen with eight goals and 14 points during the month.
When asked about his success this year, the freshman made sure to credit his friend and line-mate.
“Obviously when you play with a great player like Luke, he makes you better,” Frederic said.
The two certainly made each other better this year, as evidenced by Frederic’s impressive 1.18 points per game, the fourth-best mark among rookies and the 25th best mark in the nation.
“It seems like every time Luke and Freddy are on the ice, they’re a threat offensively, which puts a lot of pressure on the opposing team,” head coach Tony Granato said.
Together, they were named Big Ten Stars of the Week five times throughout the year, each collecting two second-star awards while Kunin picked up a third-star award as well. The two were also named to the All-Big Ten second team.
As teammates and roommates, they helped each other and the Badgers enjoy undeniable success this season. Even when the two are no longer wearing the Wisconsin uniform, they will remain connected through their friendship; from friends in St. Louis to roommates at UW to wherever they end up next.