Schultz Thinking Team First
Hobey Baker Candidate is Trying to Lead Young Badgers
by Kelly Erickson/CHN Reporter
MADISON, Wis. When scouting Wisconsin, one name jumps off the page before the rest: Justin Schultz.
After earning All-American accolades and being named a Hobey Baker Award finalist last season, the junior defensemen is a threat defensively and offensively — and opponents are well aware of his capabilities.
But while those honors are well and good, Schultz considers these individual achievements secondary to the needs of his team.
"I’ve always been about team first," Schultz said. "I want to help the team win, I could care less what people think about me or what they’re saying about me. If our team’s winning, that’s going to come, so that’s my first priority."
Last season, Schultz finished with 18 goals and 29 assists for 47 points — the most of any defensemen in the nation — placing him at No. 17 for the scoring leaders in the league.
This season, the West Kelowna, B.C. native has continued that trend. Through 16 games, Schultz already has 25 points on seven goals and 18 assists. He’s tied for third nationally with fellow Badger, sophomore forward Mark Zengerle as well as Minnesota-Duluth’s senior center Jack Connolly and Notre Dame’s sophomore forward T.J. Tynan.
Once again, he’s currently the most offensively productive defensemen in D-I hockey. But when Schultz takes the ice, stats and records mean nothing — he is simply trying to play some hockey the best way he knows how.
"I think the first thing is helping my team out as much as I can and go out there and have fun," Schultz said. "I’ve played this game all my life, that’s what I love to do. I just go out there and play and get better everyday."
With Wisconsin’s meager 7-8-1 record this season, placing it in 10th place in the WCHA, Schultz’s achievements and abilities get lost in his team’s struggles.
But his teammates are certainly taking note.
"We all know how good he is, we think he’s the best player in the country, we really firmly believe that," sophomore forward Keegan Meuer said. "I’d be hard pressed to find anybody who’s better than him. I know when people do scouts on us, they’re saying ‘we’ve got to shut this guy down.’"
A few weeks into the season, sophomore defensemen Frankie Simonelli was moved into the starting lineup. As a result, he became Schultz’s defensive partner.
The sophomore blue liner said he feels as if he’s already learned a lot, simply being on the same line with the all-American.
"Being on the ice with him, it’s almost like an honor," Simonelli said. "He’s the best defensemen in the county and to be his partner, that’s got to raise my expectations. I have to play better for him and he plays well for me. I think we compliment each other well out there."
Head coach Mike Eaves has said time and again that Schultz is the kind of player that makes those around him better.
"He’s leading the charge on how hard we work and that’s how he makes people better around him," Eaves said. "He could co 80 percent and still be effective."
"That I think is the highest compliment, when you’re a player that makes people better around you. That’s a compliment to not only your skill and your work ethic, but your character."
Ask any Badger skater and they simply cannot say enough about Schultz, his work ethic and what he’s done for Wisconsin.
"He brings it every day," Simonelli said. "Every day he stands out whether it’s practice or a game. He’s always the best player out there. Some of the stuff he can do with the puck and some of the stuff he does in practice, you want to do that. So you work hard to get like him."
Schultz is not the loudest guy on the team. He won’t consistently voice his opinion or call out his fellow skaters on things.
He simply leads by example.
"You see the way he comes to work every day," Meuer said. "He does the right things on the ice, he’s always working hard. He just seems to make the right play. You want to learn from him and watch him and see what he does out there. He does a lot of the right things out there for us. Ninety-five percent of the time he’s always making the right play."
The all-American blue liner may not be with the strongest Badger squad this year, but he’s still making a name for himself. Schultz essentially just pushes himself as hard as possible every day, attempting to make his game that much better.
"I think just going out there and working hard," Schultz said. "If my teammates doing that in practice and in games — just going out there and working 110 percent every time I’m out there, it’s just going to make you better. If you’re not doing that then you’re not going to get better and every day, that’s what we’re striving for."