The late-night phone call Tuesday from the West Coast brought good news for followers of the UW men's hockey team.

Defenseman Jake Gardiner said he will return for his junior season and not become the fifth underclassman to leave the Badgers for the NHL since April.

"I'm coming back to Wisconsin,'' he said.

Gardiner, a first-round NHL draft pick of Anaheim in 2008, is currently attending an evaluation camp for Ducks prospects in California. He said he entertained thoughts of joining four teammates -- sophomore center Derek Stepan and junior defensemen Cody Goloubef, Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith -- in leaving school early this summer.

But Gardiner said he's looking forward to teaming with sophomores and fellow returning starters Justin Schultz and John Ramage in forming a proven defensive nucleus for UW next season.

Gardiner's name is woven into the discussion about who will be the elected leaders for the Badgers in 2010-11. McDonagh had been chosen as captain, while Stepan had been tabbed as an assistant.

UW coach Mike Eaves said Gardiner inquired about being the second assistant, but it remains to be seen who embraces a leadership role for next season.

"I think on paper obviously it's a big void, but I'm interested in seeing who steps up now,'' Eaves said.

That's where Jim Snider, the respected strength and conditioning coach, comes in. He will spend all summer with the players and relay his impressions to Eaves.

Just an educated guess, but two names that will be in the mix are center Sean Dolan, a senior-to-be, and center/winger Craig Smith, a sophomore-to-be from Madison.


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