Top line clicking early for UW

first_imgSophomore assistant captain Craig Smith and linemates Jordy Murray and Mark Zengerle have clicked early and have already put up seven goals and 13 assists for UW in four games this season.[/media-credit]The question coming into the season was where the Wisconsinmen’s hockey team was going to get its points. UW lost four 50-point scorersfrom last season’s squad, and its leading returning scorer had just one year ofcollege under his belt.But for a team that lost almost three quarters of itsscoring from last season, the Badgers aren’t struggling to find the back of the net. Granted, it’sonly four games into the season, and three of those games came against thelikes of Alabama-Huntsville and Holy Cross, but Wisconsin is tied for third inthe nation in scoring offense, with 21 goals.It looked like head coach Mike Eaves would need to rely onhis top line, with returning forwards Craig Smith and Jordy Murray to take uponthe bulk of the scoring load. Wisconsin’s other returning forwards accountedfor just nine goals and 16 assists last season.“You always, as a player coming back, want to be one of thego-to players, especially with the guys we lost last year,” Murray said. “Weboth had really good summers training and we thought we were ready for a littleadded pressure.”Instead of crumbling under expectations, the Badgers’ topline of Murray, Smith and freshman Mark Zengerle has excelled, posting a combined7-13-20 to begin the season – roughly 33 percent of UW’s points.So far, so good.“It’s been good. I think Zengerle’s a nice kid, brings anatmosphere on the bench, where we both can talk to each other during a hardtime in a game,” Smith said. “I’ve been playing with Jordy for about a yearnow, so things are really clicking well.”After the first UW hat trick since Blake Geoffrion’sthree-goal game against Michigan Tech last year, Murray leads the team withfour total goals, two of them coming courtesy of Zengerle. The freshman leadsthe team with six assists, three of them to his linemates.One came in Sunday’s 5-2 win over UAH. Zengerle had the puckin the corner and fed a centering pass to Murray, who crashed the net andscored.“I don’t think we really had a guy like him last year – wehad Mike Davies, who’s similar,” Murray said. “He sees the ice so well, he’llfind you – I know on my second goal, I don’t know if anyone else on the teamcould find me like that easily.”So far, each of the three’s playing styles have complementedeach other’s nicely.“They have their own distinct personalities. Mark is a passer,Craig Smith is going to shoot first, and Jordy is somewhere in between,” Eavessaid. “They all bring something like that to the table, and they feed well offof each other.”And not only have the three manned UW’s top line all season,but they are also the forwards on Wisconsin’s first-unit power play. Thesuccess on the power play has been just as notable, with the Badgers converting11 times this season with the man-advantage. Zengerle’s three other assistswere to power-play point men Justin Schultz and Jake Gardiner.The added opportunities to play with each other has onlyhelped the trio, both at even strength and on the power play.“You’re playing with someone on the power play, you kind ofknow what you do when you have time and space, know what kind of passes eachother are looking for,” Zengerle said.With his power play and top line clicking so early in theseason, there’s not a lot Eaves could ask for offensively. On the other side ofthe puck, it’s a different story.Murray admits the three are more “offensive” players, andall three acknowledge the need to play strong defensively. He and Smith haveexperience with the team’s systems, but Zengerle has faced a learning curve, asfar as his responsibilities off the puck.“[Zengerle] wants to be a 60-foot player and we want him tobe a 200-foot player,” Eaves said. “A lot like Michael Davies had to learnthose things. Michael did and I’m sure Mark wants to be as good as he can andhe’s listening and willing. He’s just got to get some new habits.”By his senior year, Davies blossomed into one of the WCHA’sbiggest offensive forces, and comparisons between him and Zengerle seem to bodewell for the UW offense. But any Eaves-coached team needs to be sounddefensively, and that, as it was with Davies, could be the struggle for thefreshman.On the other hand, it’s hard to argue with the pointproduction, even when considering the opposition it came against. The Badgerscould get a wake-up call when they head west to take on Denver this weekend toopen conference play. Or maybe the top line will continue to roll against thePioneers.Either way, it’s early in the season.“We’re getting the chemistry going, I’m starting to knowwhere they’re going to be without even looking,” Murray said. “I’m sure we’ll justget better as the season goes on.”last_img read more