Kerdiles, Badgers Look to 'Keep Rolling'
by Tony Jovenitti/CHN Reporter
That’s the motto for Wisconsin this week. And, considering what Wisconsin accomplished in the past two weeks, it’s fitting.
“Everyone has good spirits in the locker room,” freshman forward Nic Kerdiles said. “We’re just going to keep rolling.”
Since the regular season ended, the Badgers rattled off five straight wins, scoring 21 goals en route to a WCHA Final Five championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. If the Badgers could pick one player, in particular, to “keep rolling,” it would be Kerdiles.
In all five playoff games, Kerdiles tallied 10 points, scoring four goals and six assists in the past two weeks. But all of this almost didn’t happen.
In early October, the NCAA informed Wisconsin that Kerdiles would be suspended for the entire season. Last summer, while attending the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh (where the Anaheim Ducks selected him 36th overall), he used a hotel room near the arena that his advisor booked. The hotel his parents booked was near the airport, which is a little too far from downtown to attend all of the Draft activities. Kerdiles’ family paid the advisor back, but the NCAA viewed it as an improper loan and suspended him.
“It was a very tumultuous start for him, without question,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said.
“It was a lot to deal with,” Kerdiles said.
Two weeks into the season, the NCAA agreed to reduce the suspension to 10 games. But during those 10 games, the Badgers struggled to a 1-7-2 record.
“Not being able to score a lot of goals, we found ways to lose,” Eaves said.
But since Kerdiles returned to the lineup on Nov. 30 at Denver, the Badgers are 21-5-5. Around that same time, Mark Zengerle also returned to the lineup after breaking his finger.
“We got these guys back in, and everyone was able to accept their role, and we started winning some games because of that,” Eaves said.
While the win-loss column saw an immediate boost when he returned to the lineup, it took Kerdiles a few weeks to find his stride. Through his first 12 games, he scored seven points. But in his last 19, he notched 25 points, including eight goals.
“Not getting to play the first 10 games was weird,” Kerdiles said. “I wasn’t with my line in practices, so when I first started playing with my line and played my first game it was a little bit weird. I didn’t have that chemistry with my line-mates right away.”
Eaves actually broke up the top line of Kerdiles, Zengerle and Tyler Barnes to try out other combinations.
But Eaves said he started to notice a change in Kerdiles after the Winter break.
“I think, after Christmas, all this weight kind of dissipated from his shoulders, and he was able to be an 18-year-old boy and be a freshman,” Eaves said. “It was fun with him coming on the ice and trying different things.”
Eventually, Eaves put the line back together, and the Badgers have been rolling ever since.
“We knew coach put us back together for a reason; we were supposed to be effective,” Kerdiles said. “We have the speed, the talent and the skill on that line to put up points for our team. I think once we realized that we had something special, things started clicking.”
The emotions of going from thinking you’ll have to sit out the entire season to playing in the NCAA tournament six months later only helped strengthen Kerdiles in the long run.
“I’m a little bit stronger now, and I’m able to deal with adversity better than I could before,” he said. “I think it affected the way I am on the ice, too, because I know that when things are going wrong, I’ve gone through worse. So I’m able to get my mind around things and fix it. It improved me as a person and as a player.”
Those early-season struggles also helped the Badgers get into the playoff attitude.
“We’ve been playing playoff hockey since the beginning of December,” Eaves said. “We’ve learned to live with that mindset and prepare with that mindset.”
If the Badgers have been playing “playoff” games for four months, then perhaps that explains Kerdiles’ offensive output.
“I just like to play in big games,” he said. “When the pressure’s on, it’s a lot of fun.”
The next big game for Wisconsin is Friday against Massachusetts-Lowell in Machester, N.H., in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Kerdiles said the Badgers don’t want to change anything heading into this weekend.
“We’re finally producing, putting up some goals, and we’re playing well defensively — like we have been all year,” Kerdiles said. “We all want to win this really bad.”
Eaves said they just want to keep playing their game.
“And keep rolling.”