Oct. 28, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- Chicago Black Hawks megastar Patrick Kane is someone that UW freshman Mark Zengerle has closely followed since their Pee Wee hockey days in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. Some experiences are committed to memory. And you don’t easily forget Kane’s impact on a game at any level of competition.
“When we were younger, we played against each other all the time, and he’d scored four or five goals a game because he was so much better than everyone,” said Zengerle, who was raised in Rochester, some 70 miles from Buffalo (Kane’s hometown). “He was pretty special.”
Kane’s profile has grown considerably since the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Zengerle, meanwhile, is just beginning to build a profile in college hockey after not being drafted by an NHL organization despite enjoying a couple of productive seasons in juniors.
“One thing we may have in common is trying to prove people wrong, especially when you’re a smaller guy, I don’t know if people think you can succeed,” said the 5-foot-11, 178-pound Zengerle.
Kane is listed at 5-10, 178. “I guess our only similarity is size,” Zengerle conceded. “Maybe we have some of the same stick skills, but I think he has a lot more. Both of us try to play smart.”
That was endorsed by UW coach Mike Eaves on two fronts.
“When you look at yourself and you look at the skill set that you have, we always say, ‘Who would you emulate if you were in the National Hockey League?’” Eaves posed. “He (Zengerle) has similar type skills to Patrick (Kane), probably not at the same level yet, hopefully someday.
“But, hey, that’s a good thing in terms of the things that he’s able to do on the ice, the way he sees the ice and the confidence that he has with the puck. Those are all good things.”
Zengerle has been very good so far. He has at least one point in each of Wisconsin’s first six games (2-8=10), the longest streak to start a season since Robbie Earl had points in his first seven games during the 2004-05 season. Chris Tancill was the last player to score in his first eight games (1989-90).
“The first thing that comes to mind with Mark is that he has offensive skills that you don’t teach,” Eaves said. “And what has come to light in the six games is that we can see as a staff that he has a mind for the game. He can take something that is said or shown on video and he’s able to use it.
“He reminds me of one of those rink rats. He loves to play. He’s not the smoothest looking guy. He’s a little awkward in his skating. But he’s effective. Both of his brothers were wrestlers. And he has kind of that wrestler’s mentality. And it serves him well. When he gets the puck, he wants to keep it.”
Zengerle attended Northwood Prep in Lake Placid, the same school that served as a stepping stone in the development of two of Wisconsin’s greatest players: goaltender Mike Richter and center Tony Granato. But the biggest influence on Zengerle’s growth as a player was his decision to play junior hockey for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in the British Columbia Hockey League.
Salmon Arm, B.C., is a small community of 18,000 midway between Vancouver and Calgary. Zengerle’s connection to the Silverbacks was his best friend, Conor Morrison, whose father, Dave, is a former NHL player and the current director of amateur scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Morrison, who’s now at Harvard, had played one season in Salmon Arm and, along with his dad, encouraged Zengerle to give it a shot. “I knew it was going to be a lot better league than playing prep hockey,” Zengerle said. “And it was awesome. It was the best decision I’ve ever made, for sure. I don’t know if I would be here (Wisconsin) if I had never gone there.”
Zengerle’s billet family was an older couple in their 70s, who made such an impression on him that he returned for a second season with the Silverbacks. “They were like a grandmother and a grandfather for me,” Zengerle said of Al and Jean Samuelson. “I met a lot of good people there.”
When Zengerle came to Madison on his recruiting trip, Ben Street was his campus host. They had much in common, too, since Street was a product of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. “This was the only place I visited,” said Zengerle, who was also recruited by North Dakota and Boston University. After his UW visit, he pointed out, “I felt like I didn’t need to go anywhere else.”
Last season, Zengerle accounted for 33 goals and 87 assists in 60 games.
“Guys are bigger and stronger and faster,” he said of his transition to college hockey. “You have to make decisions quicker. You have to have a game plan before you’re going to get the puck.”
Is there a greater expectation for a freshman contributing right away when he’s older?
“No question,” Eaves said of the 21-year-old Zengerle. “I think he’s going to adapt quicker because he has been on his own already. The big thing for Mark is that he was out of school for a couple of years. He was going part time but that’s a big change to get back to full time.’’
But he would appear to be a fast learner.
In more ways than one.
“I knew I could get off to a good start,” Zengerle said. “It was just a matter of doing it. I knew I would have a chance. Coach (Eaves) has given me a lot of opportunities just like I had at Salmon Arm.”
And he has already given the Badgers a shot in the arm. Has he thought about his point-scoring streak to open the season? “Kind of – it’s always nice to contribute,” he said. “But I won’t be breaking my stick over the glass if I don’t score.” Added Eaves, “It’s a long journey, and he knows that.”