The pain of a season-ending loss to Colorado College was still fresh Sunday night, but there was somew very encouraging news for followers of the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team.

Two high-profile underclassmen -- sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz and sophomore center and assistant captain Craig Smith -- indicated they plan to return in 2011-12 instead of turning pro.

Schultz is a second-round NHL pick of Anaheim who met this weekend with Ducks assistant general manager Dave McNab and told him he "100 percent'' planned to return to school.

"He knows it's my decision,'' Schultz said. "He knows another year (at UW) is not going to hurt me.

"I've kind of always known it the whole year. Around Christmas is when I (determined) another year would be good for me.''

That's huge when you know Schultz scored 18 goals -- the second-most by a blue-liner in program history and the most among defensemen in the nation -- while leading UW in scoring with 47 points.

Smith is a fourth-round NHL draft pick of Nashville. He wasn't as definitive as Schultz, but he's clearly leaning in one direction after leading the Badgers in goals and finishing second with 43 points.

"There are certain things on my check list that haven't been checked off here yet and I would definitely like to attain them,'' Smith said after scoring his team-best 19th goal in a 2-1 loss to CC in the deciding game of a best-of-three Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series.

On the flip side, all signs point to junior defenseman and assistant captain Jake Gardiner, a former first-round NHL pick, signing a deal soon with Toronto. He declined to get into specifics after finishing third on the team with 41 points (10 goals, 31 assists).

"I just want to worry about these guys right now,'' he said.


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