Holt: Future bodes well for former Badgers

first_imgTurns out the kids are all right.Seven seniors and four underclassmen left the Wisconsin men’s hockey team in the 2010 offseason. Included in that group was UW’s first ever Hobey Baker Award winner in Blake Geoffrion and the team’s leading scorer, sophomore Derek Stepan. Three of those guys are in the National Hockey League, and two of them have hat tricks. Another three were named to all-star teams in the minor leagues.There’s certainly no shortage of Badgers in the NHL, as Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Brian Rafalski are all household names among hockey fans. Twenty former Badgers played in an NHL game this season.But overall, the guys from that 2009-2010 team could end up being one of the most successful collections of NHL pros to come from one squad in quite a while. It’s very possible 10 of the Badgers who fell to Boston College in Detroit will be playing in the bigs within the next few years. What else would you expect from – as UW hockey blogger Chuck Schwartz has dubbed it – NHL University?Stepan surprised everyone – his head coach included – by signing with the New York Rangers last summer. The 20-year-old made the team out of training camp and got a dream of a first game, becoming only the fourth rookie in NHL history to score a hat trick in his first NHL game. Stepan finished the regular season fifth in scoring among rookies with 21 goals and 24 assists for 45 points.Not to be outdone, Geoffrion tore up the American Hockey League in early 2011, winning consecutive AHL player of the week awards as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals. Once called up to his hometown Nashville Predators, he notched a hat trick of his own against Buffalo.Defenseman Ryan McDonagh looks like he’ll be a staple on the blueline for the Rangers for years after getting called up in January. A hard-skating, physical defenseman, McDonagh is getting around 20 minutes of ice time a game, and his first NHL goal was a game-winner that helped the Rangers make the playoffs.As UW head coach Mike Eaves put it, McDongah looks like he belongs.“The pro game is made for Ryan in terms of his physical strengths and his ability to move from point A to point B. But the way he plays, it’s simple, it’s clean, it’s effective,” Eaves said. “That’s why he’s getting the ice time that he has, because he’s very effective in those areas.”So far, those three are the only former Badgers from that team to get NHL time. But they’re not the only ones to enjoy success.2010 WCHA Defensive Player of the Year Brendan Smith joined the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit Red Wings’ AHL affiliate, and made an instant impact. Smith was the first Griffins rookie to be named to the AHL All-Star Game and was also named to the AHL all-rookie team.Forward Ben Street has proved to be a valuable free-agent signing, getting named the ECHL Rookie of the Year as a member of the Wheeling Nailers. Street scored 24-27-51 in just 38 games and was eventually called up to the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins of the AHL, where he went 12-11-23 in 36 games.Forward Andy Bohmbach led all East Coast Hockey League rookies in scoring, with a 25-43-68 line, and was named to the ECHL all-rookie team. Aaron Bendickson was named an ECHL all-star at midseason but left to finish his college degree. John Mitchell played most of his season in the AHL for Syracuse and has the size (6-foot-5, 216) to possibly make an NHL roster someday. It won’t be surprising to see defenseman Cody Goloubef make his NHL debut next year for Columbus, either.That’s not even counting four guys from that Badgers team that still have their professional careers ahead of them.Defenseman Jake Gardiner left after this season ended, getting a taste of the AHL with a 10-game stint with the Toronto Marlies. Gardiner flashed his defensive prowess with McDonagh as a sophomore, forming one of the nation’s best shutdown defensive pairings. As a junior, he was counted on to produce points and responded by posting a 10-31-41 line that was second in the nation among defensemen.Ahead of Gardiner in blueline scoring was Justin Schultz, who has said he’s staying for his junior year. Schultz was named WCHA Defensive Player of the Year and had 18 goals – most for a defenseman since 2002.Craig Smith, a fourth-round pick of Nashville, is also staying for at least one more year, giving him time to work on his consistency. When he’s on, the center looks like the best player on the ice. But he’s not always on, despite a very successful 19-goal, 43-point sophomore campaign.And then there’s John Ramage, a fourth-round pick last summer, whose game is very well-suited for the smaller rinks of the NHL.Not a bad bunch, eh?“That speaks loudly for Mike Eaves and his ability to coach and teach,” Geoffrion said in a phone interview.Look at the guys from the 2006 title-winning team. Eight of those Badgers have played in the NHL since leaving Wisconsin, guys like Adam Burish, Jake Dowell and Tom Gilbert. The more recent group didn’t even win the championship and could surpass the ’06 team in NHL-ers.Five years from now, chances are good 10 members of that 2009-2010 UW team are playing in the NHL regularly. Another two or three have outside chances of making a roster someday. Give credit to Eaves and his staff for helping develop what might end up being one of the most successful groups of Badgers in UW history.Adam is a senior majoring in journalism. Been following any former Badgers in the pros? Email him at aholt@badgerherald.com or Tweet @AdamJSHolt.last_img

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