The University of Wisconsin men’s ice hockey team (7-10-1, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) is having a rough go at the dish lately, losing in several underwhelming performances. Despite having a record under .500, they remain one of the nation’s top and most exciting programs.
Part of this success? Wisconsin’s highly-recruited freshman center, Alex Turcotte.
Turcotte was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2019 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings and stands as the third-highest selected Badger in the NHL Draft in school history.
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The 5-foot-11, left-handed, 180-pound centerman from Island Lake, Illinois, has had a terrific freshman season through 14 games, scoring over a point-per-game on average. He is a top contributer for the Badgers in points (15), goals (6), assists (9) and powerplay goals (4).
He was one of four Badgers to be drafted in the 2019 NHL Draft, others being freshmen Cole Caufield, Owen Lindmark and Ryder Donovan. These four have all played together on different U.S. National teams prior to this season. Turcotte described how going to school, practicing and playing with these three has created a tight bond between them.
“That’s where we became best friends,” Turcotte said. “Having that encouragement has been great and it’s like another support piece. You get to lean on guys like that because you’re going through the same thing as them, so it’s been great.”
While his friends and teammates have been extremely supportive of him, nothing has served as more of a support piece to Turcotte than his dad, Alfie Turcotte, who was drafted 17th overall in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens.
Alex discussed his feeling on being drafted twelve spots higher than Alfie.
“He’d always kind of chirp me about it,” Alex said. “It was all fun and games, so I kind of jab him back a little bit now.”
Even with some playful jabs, the relationship between the two is purely loving.
Turcotte was enthusiastic about the amount of support his father has given him, as it has helped him become the player and man he is today.
“I’m here and I am who I am today because of him,” Turcotte said of his father. “He’s definitely been the biggest influence in my life on and off the ice, so he’s been a great supporting piece.”
Alex has had a tremendous impact on the Badgers’ offensive success this season, but it is not just him carrying the load. Wisconsin’s freshmen as a whole have been the glue of the team and have had an enormous impact on the season thus far.
Turcotte pointed out how, despite the team’s youth, most of the players are used to playing against older competition.
“A lot of us [freshmen] played juniors, so we played against older guys when we were younger than them, so we kind of have some of that experience,” Turcotte said. “It’s still a big adjustment. Even from the USA team to here … we can always improve and definitely have a lot of things to work on.”
Another adjustment for Turcotte has been playing in front of a larger crowd at the Kohl Center as opposed to playing in front of the crowd at the U.S. National team games. Yet, this has been a relatively smooth transition for him despite the daunting nature of the task.
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Though Turcotte has had a great experience playing for the Badgers this season, his decision to play came as a result of choosing not to play for the Kings. This was a huge decision for someone who has been surrounded by hockey his entire life.
His reasoning, however, was not related to avoiding his inevitable leap to play professional hockey, but rather because of his relationships with current Badger teammates.
“Just the guys that are here, a lot are really great teammates, and going with Cole and Owen — it was an easy decision,” Turcotte said.
Even with this decision, Turcotte is aware that his NHL jump is looming, and he acknowledged that getting stronger and more prepared for the NHL is a major factor on his mind.
Moving forward, improvements can come in numerous ways for Turcotte. This means improving his goal scoring, shooting and 200-foot game in order to bring these attributes to Los Angeles, where there already lies an elite 200-foot centerman and one of Turcotte’s favorite players, Anže Kopitar.
“As far as goal scoring goes, just scoring from different areas on the ice, but using my shot more,” Turcotte said. “I’m more of a playmaker, so I think using my shot can be a dual threat. I know what I can do offensively, but I think you want to be out there in all situations, and in order to do that, you need to have a good 200-foot game.”
To develop his 200-foot game, Turcotte strives to be more relied on defensively, and to improve his faceoff percentage.
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His ability to develop as a player has changed drastically over time, as he had to find ways to succeed against players who were much bigger, stronger and older.
“When you’re a kid, it’s a lot more separated on talent and you can kind of get away with it if you are more talented, but then ever since the U.S. teams and college … there’s not that much of a difference from each player,” Turcotte said.
The sudden even playing field has caused Turcotte to work much harder than he ever had before.
Turcotte explained that playing in college has required an adjustment period, but he feels that the high level of competition is crucial to his career.
“I think just working hard and trying to get better every day can really go a long way because there’s not much separation from guys,” Turcotte said. “Everyone’s a lot older and physically more mature, and, especially in college, there’s 25-year-olds. That’s crazy. I’m 18, so playing against guys that are way older, I can only help and see how much of a physical advantage they have, but you have to adapt, and it can only make you better.”
Next time you’re at a Badger hockey game, watch out for No. 15 on the ice, as he may be an NHL star in the making.