UW men's hockey: In Gardiner and Schultz, Badgers have two of a kind on the blue line

2011-01-20T20:10:00Z 2011-03-15T09:19:35Z UW men's hockey: In Gardiner and Schultz, Badgers have two of a kind on the blue lineANDY BAGGOT | abaggot@madison.com | 608-252-6175 madison.com

Compatibility isn't always apparent in some relationships. Sometimes opposites attract. Sometimes bipartisan legislation gets written.

There's no such mystery when it comes to Jake Gardiner and Justin Schultz, the dynamic defensive pairing for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team.

They were first-borns who arrived two days apart in 1990 and were drafted by the same NHL club — Anaheim — in 2008. They hang out daily away from the rink, share the same leisure time interests — movies, golf and video games — and display similar friendly, reserved personalities.

They played forward until they were seniors in high school — Gardiner in Minnetonka, Minn., and Schultz in West Kelowna, British Columbia — and blossomed immediately upon being moved back to the blue line.

They have the same on-ice skill set — excellent skater, great vision and offensive instincts — and an uncanny, unspoken sense of knowing what the other will do.

So it shouldn't surprise that Gardiner and Schultz have formed a lethal partnership for the ninth-ranked Badgers that could produce unprecedented achievements this season.

Heading into a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series Friday and Saturday night with Minnesota State-Mankato at the Kohl Center, Gardiner and Schultz form the highest-scoring defensive unit in the nation with 58 points.

Schultz leads all defensemen in the country with 14 goals and 32 points. At this rate, he will become the first UW blue-liner not only to score 20 goals in a season, but also to lead the team in that category. With a minimum of 14 games remaining, Schultz has a decent shot at the WCHA record of 23 set by Tom Preissing of Colorado College in 2002-03.

Meanwhile, Gardiner (5-21-26) is threatening to become the first UW defenseman to reach 40 assists since Chris Chelios had 43 in 1981-82. A year after leading the team in plus/minus at plus-25, Gardiner is second in the nation among blue-liners at plus-18.

Some might find it odd that Gardiner, a junior, and Schultz, a sophomore, are paired together in the first place. They had different partners for the first eight games because UW coach Mike Eaves wanted to balance their puck-rushing tendencies with someone who would stay back and mind the defensive store.

"What we discovered," Eaves said of Gardiner and Schultz, "is that in their offensive ways they supported each other in a way to give them balance."

UW assistant coach Bill Butters proposed the pairing to Eaves based on the concept of game management.

"Let them control the puck," Butters said. "That way we won't be in our (defensive) zone as much, they can complement each other and set each other up, and they both are good enough skaters to get back and play defense.

Gardiner, drafted 17th overall by the Ducks, and Schultz, the 43rd choice, are more about finesse on offense than being physical on defense. That dates to their time spent at forward.

Gardiner was a winger until Mankato coach Troy Jutting, in the process of recruiting him as a junior in high school, suggested he move back to defense.

"I had more points when I played defense than when I played forward," said Gardiner, who called Jutting to give thanks for the life-altering idea.

Schultz also made the switch heading into his senior year of high school. "I felt like I got the puck way more," he said. "I enjoyed it right from the get-go."

Gardiner and Schultz hit it off immediately as partners. Since debuting Nov. 5 and 6 at Minnesota, Schultz has 11 goals in 18 outings, while Gardiner is averaging a point a game.

Owing to their quiet ways, there isn't much talking between the two on the ice, but there's no lack of communication.

"We read off each other really well," Gardiner said.

Their compatibility might well extend to the NHL. It would be a surprise if either returned to college next year given their performance arc.

"It's weird, but it's awesome, actually," Gardiner said of their ties to Anaheim. "It's nice to have a guy out there with me if we make it."

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