It hasn’t taken long for West Kelowna’s Justin Schultz to make a mark with one of the top collegiate hockey programs in the United States.
In just his second season with the University of Wisconsin Badgers, Schultz has become one of the highest scoring defenceman in the entire NCAA with 32 points in 26 games.
That’s after his freshman season last year when he was named to his conference’s (WCHA) all rookie team as Wisconsin played all the way to the NCAA national championship game.
“I don’t think it could be going much better,” admitted Schultz, in an interview from his apartment on the campus of the University of Wisconsin. “Coming in as a freshman and going to the national championship last year was awesome. And this year having the production I’ve been having has been very good.”
Now 20, Schultz has been quarterbacking the Wisconsin power play since arriving on the scene last year after two years with the Westside Warriors. An Anaheim second round draft choice in 2008, the Mount Boucherie graduate has been impressive on all fronts, according to Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
“He had a good start last year and he has continued to grow,” said Eaves. “That’s the biggest thing for us is his growth. As much as Justin is a naturally gifted offensive defenceman, he continues to get better and wants to get better in his play without the puck. He’s got a real hunger and competitive drive that assists him in his efforts.”
Schultz’s play has garnered some serious attention this year. He has been nominated in the first phase of voting for the Hobey Baker award, given annually to the top hockey player in the NCAA, a major honour for a player just two years removed from junior A hockey. He’s second on his team in scoring, second overall in the WCHA scoring and first in WCHA scoring amongst defenceman.
“I think having a year under my belt definitely helps,” said Schultz. “I just feel more confident and more poised with the puck. I’ve gotten a lot stronger since my freshman year.”
The University of Wisconsin is one of the NCAA’s biggest schools. The hockey team leads the nation in attendance with 15,000 fans regularly packing the Badgers home rink the Kohl Centre. This year Schultz lives in an apartment building across from the Kohl Centre and says the atmosphere is amazing.
“All the college rinks have a pretty cool atmosphere,” he said. “They have bands playing and the student sections are pretty wild. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much fun playing hockey.”
While hockey draws 15,000 fans, that’s nothing compared to the 82,000 fans that the Wisconsin football team draws. Schultz and some of his teammates took in some football earlier this year.
“That was pretty crazy,” he said. “The student fans are unreal. They love their school and they love to cheer.”
Of course it’s not all fun as Schultz is juggling a full academic schedule along with the rigors of his hockey season. Taking courses in communications, the 6-foot-2 blueliner says it’s all about time management.
“We don’t have too much time,” he said. “You have to be a little more mature than when you are in junior just hanging around. It was a challenge coming in but I think I’ve figured it out pretty well.”
Not only has Schultz figured out how to balance books and hockey, he is figuring out the college game as well, putting up big numbers in just his second season.
For coach Mike Eaves, his young defenceman’s success comes down to Schultz’s mindset.
“The thing about Justin is he is a very determined young guy,” said Eaves. “He’s got a great competitive edge. He knows the areas he has to get better in. As he plays to his strengths he is also cognizant that he wants to get better in the areas that are not his strength.”