Badger Bios: meet six Wisconsin standouts
As part of Wisconsin's large veteran core, Malone, Frederic, Johnson, Linhart, Tischke and Wagner look to lead the Badgers in 2017-'18
Jake Linhart and the rest of UW's seniors could potentially play their last games of their careers this weekend against Michigan.Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger
Just two years ago, sophomore Trent Frederic had not even had a taste of college hockey. Before he was a Badger, Frederic played two seasons for the United States National Team Development Program, where he put up 40 points (20 goals, 20 assists) in 60 games. In 2016, Frederic skated for Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Under-18 World Championship, alongside current teammate JD Greenway. At the tournament, Frederic put up seven points in seven games en route to a bronze medal.
For many, even after playing on such esteemed teams, the transition to college hockey can be difficult. Frederic, however, has already had immediate impact on the Wisconsin hockey program after just his first season.
Last season, Frederic, the first round, 29th overall pick in 2016 by the Boston Bruins, had an incredible freshman campaign, netting 15 goals (second on the team to Luke Kunin’s 22) and 33 points (also second to Kunin–38). Frederic did, however, play less games with Kunin, and was accordingly first in points per game with 1.1. Frederic also led the team in shooting percentage, scoring on 20.3 percent of his shots.
All of this success translated to a multitude of accolades, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Second Team All-Big Ten. The freshman phenom was also the only unanimous selection to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
Frederic’s impact, however, goes beyond just those numbers. The forward is very versatile and can play both center and winger. He consistently wins face-offs, is a great two way forward and seemingly comes up with timely blocks to keeps the puck away from UW’s net. On top of that, he simply has a knack for the net, and always seems to find the back of the goal when UW needs it most.
“Last year was an outstanding year for him,” head coach Tony Granato said. “He was relied on in every situation for us — the powerplay, penalty kill. He played a lot of minutes for us.”
Not only is Frederic talented and relied on for tangible contributions, but he has already established himself as a leader and a mentor, and will accordingly be one of Wisconsin’s assistant captains this season.
“As far as wearing an ‘A’ on his sweater, that’s been earned by what he put into it last year,” Granato said. “His work ethic, his leadership, how he handles every situation. He’s a guy that you want as one of your captains.”
Despite his 2016-’17 campaign that earned the Spike-Carlson-Chris Chelios MVP award (as voted on by his teammates, Granato and the rest of the Badgers), expect even bigger things out of Frederic this season.
“I think this summer was a summer again where he made great strides in improving some of his strength and conditioning,” Granato said. “I think he’s ready for a really big year.”
There are seven seniors on the Badgers this season, and Ryan Wagner will be a significant part of that veteran group. Four years ago, before joining UW, Wagner played on the United States Under-18 team, and the Chicago Mission for AAA youth Midget Minor hockey before that.
Once Wagner arrived at Wisconsin, he made an immediate impact. In his freshman season (2014-’15), he played in 35 of the Badgers’ 36 games, and even led the team in hits. Wagner’s ability to make an impact game in and game out has persisted, as he was one of only five Badgers to play in every game last season, helping him total 19 assists (tied for second on the team).
To the casual hockey fan, Wagner looks like a pretty good hockey player. He has a sick set of hands, and can make pretty incredible moves around defenders. He shoots the puck well and can put it in the net when he needs to. Despite not being the fastest skater, Wagner can get himself into scoring positions, and he is always in the the middle of the action. He even scored a Sportscenter Top Ten-esque goal last year, roofing the puck from the slot while literally falling down onto his back.
Accordingly, many view Wagner’s contributions as primarily offensive. The senior, however, provides way more than a few cool dangles. Wagner is really the “do-it-all-man” for the Badgers. He plays significant power play minutes, and is an even more valuable asset on the penalty kill. Wagner was consistently one of the top killers for the Badgers and a big reason UW bolstered an impressive 84.5 percent penalty kill last season.
“Wags is a great example of what he can add to our lineup as far as being a solid 2 way player,” Granato said. “He has such stability on the wing. He’s going to kill penalties and play on the powerplay. He will be a big minute guy for us.”
Outside of being so dominant on special teams, Wagner’s best contribution comes on the defensive side of the puck. Accordingly, he very well may be Wisconsin’s best two-way forward, never taking a shift off defensively. While UW’s forwards collectively struggled at defensive zone positioning last season, Wagner was always in the right spot, and took pride in defensive responsibility.
Accordingly, Wagner led Wisconsin in plus-minus with a plus-eight rating. Wisconsin’s average plus-minus last year came out even, and Wagner was one of only four forwards with a positive plus-minus (with a player as low as minus-22).
Potentially Wagner’s most iconic play last season, however, was when he dove face first into the boards to tip a puck so that it wouldn’t be called icing — highlighting Wagner’s dedication to doing the little things to help his team win.
As a result of this determination, Wagner will be an assistant captain for the Badgers this season.
Senior defenseman Jake Linhart, entering his fourth season with Wisconsin, has now established himself as the leader and best player on the Badgers’ defensive core.
Before he was a Badger, Linhart played for the Chicago Mission and then the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. Most college hockey players don’t start playing in the NCAA until they are older, but Linhart started his career with the Badgers as only an 18-year-old and has been a big part of UW’s program since then.
Last season, Linhart led Wisconsin’s defense with 23 points, and scored a huge overtime winner against Michigan State. Additionally, Linhart was the only defenseman who played over ten games that had a positive plus-minus. Linhart was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team after the season.
To many, Linhart may not look particularly special. He doesn’t really do anything flashy. Instead, Linhart plays a much more simple, efficient game. Linhart is the first defender back to protect the crease. He is always making the right pass. He finds a way to keep pucks in at the offensive blue line. He chips the puck out of the D-zone when the forwards need a change. These all seem like little things, but in aggregate they are substantial contributions.
“To a non-hockey fan, they might not really see him. He’s not very flashy, but at the end of the night he’s plus two or three. He’s got a goal and a couple assists,” redshirt senior Tim Davison said. “He keeps it simple. He plays a real smart game. He’s a great skater, really good defensively. He doesn’t try to force things. He’s not trying to walk through guys. He just makes the right play every time.”
In an age of professional defenseman like Erik Karlsson who dazzle and make spectacular plays, the art of consistency and simplicity often gets overlooked. Still, historically, some of the all time greats didn’t make extravagant plays — just the right ones. That consistency and ability to make the right play is exactly what Linhart brings to UW.
“There are some really good players, like Nicklas Lidstrom, who aren’t very flashy but are some of the all time greats,” Davison said. “Stuff like that, just keeping it simple and playing the game the right way, are so important. Linhart has had a lot of success [doing that].”
Linhart has been relied upon so often by this UW coaching staff, and he has delivered. As a result, Linhart will be one of the assistant captains for Wisconsin this season.
“He’s not the most vocal guy on our team, but he works hard. He brings it every day, and if he does have something to say, people are going to respond, they’re going to respect it” Davison said. “I think you need someone like that. When Linny starts to talk, everyone’s like, ‘okay we should listen.’ He’s a great leader.”
Linhart was already Wisconsin’s best defenseman last year, and with another year of improvement, look for the senior assistant captain to be a force defensively this season.
A lot of the Wisconsin hockey players outperformed their expectations last season, but junior defenseman Peter Tischke exemplified that more than maybe any other Badger. Tischke has been a solid player at all stages of his hockey career, including in his two seasons in the USHL with the Chicago Steel.
Tischke had a quality freshman campaign, but really broke out as one of UW’s best defenders in 2016-’17. Ultimately, Tischke’s performance earned his All-Big Ten Second Team honors.
The third year man is not particularly flashy. In fact, he’s not flashy at all. He doesn’t have breakaway speed, nor does he have the hardest shot. Tischke’s main contributions stem from his consistency. Game in and game out, Tischke never takes a shift off. He likely isn’t going to be the player to score the big goal (although he did net the game winner against Michigan last season on Feb. 8), but he will almost always make the right pass and be in sound defensive position. Tischke, maybe more than any other UW defender, is consistently protecting the net and not missing his defensive assignments.
“He’s one of the fastest guys on the team, one of the strongest. He competes in the corner. He just does everything well,” redshirt senior defenseman Tim Davison said. “He’s so consistent every game. He’s playing probably 25 to 30 minutes a game and he’s a big part of our team.”
This consistency that Tischke demonstrated last season was recognized by his teammates and coaches. At the end of the season, he received the team’s Dr. Joseph Coyne-Joe Pavelski Most Consistent Player award. Wisconsin this year will stress stability and consistency in terms of defensive coverage, and Tischke will be an integral part of seeing that goal come to fruition. Lasy year UW lacked the poise to consistently cover the front of the net, and Tischke hopes to help turn that around this season.
Tischke’s other biggest attribute, however, is his ability to successfully block shots of opposing players. Quite simply, he is a vacuum, a machine at stopping pucks before they get to his goalie. Last season, Tischke led the Badgers with 60 blocks. The then-sophomore would literally kneel in front of any bomb, and was fearless in his pursuit to come up with a block.
“You want to be good in your own zone, so every time you can block a shot, that’s one less save your goalie has to make,” Davison said. “If the shots he blocks get through, you never know what can happen. It’s huge. Pete’s in there blocking shots even in practice.”
The most memorable and iconic moment of last year’s campaign for Tischke was in the team’s biggest win, a 3-2 victory on Feb. 24 over rival Minnesota. In that game, Tischke blocked 11 shots, which is a ridiculous number on its own, but even more impressive when you consider the timeliness of the blocks. Whenever Minnesota started to press, Tischke came up with another block, thwarting its momentum and scoring chance.
The Badgers defense in 2017-’18 will likely be much better than a season ago, and Tischke will be a crucial piece in that.
Junior forward Seamus Malone has seen hockey success everywhere that he has played. Before joining Wisconsin, the sophomore forward played three seasons in the United States Hockey League with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. In 2014-’15, his last year with Dubuque, the Fighting Saints finished third in the Eastern Conference and made it to the semifinals of the Clark Cup Playoffs. Malone led Dubuque that season with 58 points in 58 games, which was the 11th highest point total in the league.
After arriving at UW, Malone had an impressive freshman campaign. His 25 points were the sixth most in scoring for Big Ten freshman, and he was second among Big Ten rookies with 20 assists.
Even after a big freshman year, Malone continued to make greater strides last season. Malone’s contributions were often overshadowed by the dominance of Luke Kunin and Trent Frederic, but that does not diminish the fact that he had a really impressive second year with Wisconsin. Malone finished last season fourth on the team in points with 29, tied for third in goals with 10 and second in assists with 19.
Offensively, Malone brings a lot to Wisconsin. Malone is a really good skater and has a rocket of a shot when he lets one fly. The sophomore forward finds a way to skate fast through the neutral zone with the puck and carry himself into the high scoring areas. Malone made plenty of offensive contributions last season, but most notably was his two-goal performance in a 6-5 loss in Colorado against then No. 2 Denver, the eventual national champion.
“He’s a really skilled player. He has great puck skills and his vision is amazing,” sophomore forward Max Zimmer said. “If I can get open he will be able to get me the puck anywhere on the ice. He’s a smart player overall.”
On the other side of the puck, Malone also plays really solid defense. He is a go-to penalty killer for the Badgers and is counted on to play solid in-zone defense as one of UW’s primary centerman.
One of Malone’s most underrated attributes, though, is his versatility. Malone plays anywhere from first to third line, and can mesh and create chemistry with really anyone on the team. Last season, he was on a line with almost every other Badger forward and found success on each of those lines.
“His versatility is really important. Not only for the coaches to be able to put together a lineup, but for him to be able to play any position to play with any guy is crucial,” Zimmer said. “I played on a line with him last year and I thought we had a lot of success because of him.”
Malone is likely to make even more strides this season. Look for him to both lead the Badgers with tangible contributions and leadership, as Malone will also wear an assistant captains patch this season.
Junior forward Will Johnson is a top candidate for breakout player of the year for Wisconsin, despite already stringing together a successful first two years with the program. The Badgers already had very high expectations of the Santa Barbara, Calif. native since well before he was on the team. In Johnson’s last year of junior hockey, he totaled 36 points in 30 games for the Madison Capitols of the USHL. He was actually leading the league in scoring after those 30 games, but suffered an injury that ended his season prematurely.
Last season, Johnson made in impact every game, as he was one of only five Badgers to play in all 36 contests. Early in the year last season, Johnson played on the third line with Malone and freshman forward Max Zimmer (who he also played with in game one of this season), but was constantly moved around, playing with almost everyone on lines one through three. He ended his sophomore campaign with 22 points on ten goals and 12 assists, including five powerplay goals (which was tied for second most on the team). His most important goal, however, came in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, when Johnson netted the game winner against Ohio State.
Johnson is an incredibly nifty forward with a lot of skill, including a slick pair of mitts. He actually may have the best hands on the team, rivaled by Wagner and a few others. He is a real crafty skater, and he likes to use his speed to drive outside and make plays cutting across the goal line. Johnson has offensive talent, and he can make really make something happen out of nothing based on pure skill alone.
“He’s sneaky. He’s not the most flashy player, but he definitely has just as much skill as anyone on the team,” freshman forward Max Zimmer said. “He plays on the power play too. This is his third year and he had a good last year. I think he will be able to contribute this year offensively. He’s very talented.”
Still, even with all of the offensive talent, Johnson was only eighth on the team in points, and while ten goals is a solid number, Johnson’s skill outweighs that production. Often, for guys that produce less on the scoresheet than they are capable, the next season tends to be a big breakout year. For Johnson, many of his teammates expect just that: an offensive explosion this year.
“He’s definitely one of those guys that could have a breakout year,” Zimmer said. “For us, and for him personally, a big year for him would be really great.”
Johnson’s talent and offensive skillset will likely lead to a pretty dominant season for the junior forward.
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