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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 19, 2024
Mark Zengerle

In the zone

It is no secret that the Wisconsin men’s hockey team came into this season with plenty of questions left unanswered.

One that was at the forefront of peoples’ minds was the offense. Over the summer the Badgers lost three of their top-five scorers from a season ago, including their two highest-scoring forwards, Craig Smith and Jordy Murray, who scored 19 and 18 goals respectively. 

Finding new sources of goal scoring was one of the primary concerns for Wisconsin after Smith and Murray’s departures, and so far this season Smith and Murray’s former linemate—sophomore forward Mark Zengerle—has stepped up his game to fill that void.

“When [Smith and Murray left] you know you have to fill in some big shoes and get some goals that are going to be missing,” Zengerle said.

The Rochester, N.Y. native was one of the Badgers’ better players a year ago, but his lack of goal-scoring (he only scored five times) was the area of his game that the Wisconsin coaches told him he would have to improve on coming into this year. The coaches were wary of Zengerle’s apparent shyness to shoot the puck. That pass-first instinct helped Zengerle rack up a team-leading 33 assists last year, but starting at the end of last season UW head coach Mike Eaves set out to get Zengerle to shoot more, including forcing him to do push-ups in practice when Eaves believed Zengerle passed up a shot he should have taken.

“That whole process started last year,” Eaves said. “But, that didn’t just happen with push-ups this fall, that happened with his mindset this summer, knowing that he had all summer to think about coming back and having to increase his shot production.”

Whatever Eaves and his staff instilled in Zengerle’s mind seems to be working. So far this season, Zengerle leads the Badgers in shots with 24 in eight games. That average of three shots a game is up from his average of just under 1.5 per game from a season ago. And that improvement has paid dividends, as Zengerle has already scored four times this season, one less than he scored all of last year.

“He’s seeing that ‘Hey, I can do this’ and as a result it is a positive reinforcement to the way he has to play,” Eaves said of Zengerle’s goal-scoring this season.

As one of the team’s elder statesmen—albeit with only one season of experience under his belt—Zengerle, in part, attributes his increased scoring to his expanded role in the offense this year.

“Just getting more playing time in key situations has been important,” Zengerle said. “It gets you in the game a little bit more and that helps you step up.”

One of the key factors in Zengerle’s increased production this season has been his transition back to his natural position at center. Zengerle played as a winger last year, and he said that that shift has allowed him to open up his game.

“I’ve always like playing in the middle,” Zengerle said. “You get the puck a little more and you get it with speed. As a center you’re around the play a little more so you get the puck more and get more opportunities to try something.” 

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Zengerle’s linemate and roommate, sophomore forward Tyler Barnes, agrees that the move back to center has benefited Zengerle’s game.

“He’s definitely a natural centerman,” Barnes said. “He’s got a little more free reign to be more creative.”

Zengerle showed off the creativity and playmaking ability that manning the center allows him this past Friday against Nebraska-Omaha when he unleashed a SportsCenter-worthy spin-o-rama pass to set up a goal for Barnes.

“That was one of those things where you’re watching, eyes wide open,” Barnes said. “You can’t believe it happened and I had a pretty great seat for it.”

“That’s just his creativity coming out on the ice,” he added.

Zengerle said that that pass “probably” ranks No. 1 on his career highlight reel, but it is a move that he has been working to perfect.

“That’s actually something I work on a bunch on my own time when I’m messing around,” Zengerle said. “You rarely get the opportunity to use that, but when I saw [Barnes] going hard for the net I figured I would give it a go.”

Losing Smith and Murray’s production struck a big blow to Wisconsin, but in their absence Zengerle has stepped up his game and has taken the reins of the Badgers’ offense. He has opened up his game and has become the premier playmaker on this Wisconsin team. He looks confident with the puck on his stick, and when he has the puck you get a sense he is going to make something happen. Zengerle is well on his way to a breakout season for the Badgers, and has single-handedly helped erase some of the doubts many had about his team.

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