For a while last Friday, Wyatt Kalynuk had his first goal for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, announced over the Kohl Center speakers and everything.
One day later, deja vu struck, and the freshman defenseman was getting celebrated on the PA system for “his first as a Badger” again.
Yet here’s Kalynuk, with no puck to commemorate either occasion and still with a zero in the goals column in the stats.
Replays later showed that Kalynuk’s power-play shots from the top of the zone deflected off teammates before hitting the net, leaving him with only primary assists but no hard feelings.
“To be honest, it’s not a big deal at all,” Kalynuk said this week. “It really doesn’t matter.”
What does matter to the seventh-ranked Badgers is that Kalynuk is getting pucks through to the net in his role running the top of the key on the first power-play unit.
Count that as one of many highlights of an opening month with the Badgers that already has made Kalynuk a valuable member of the defensive corps.
The oldest of three freshmen that have played on UW’s blue line in all nine games, the 20-year-old has been a composed figure playing alongside veteran Jake Linhart.
“He’s very calm,” said associate head coach Mark Osiecki, who works with the defensemen.
“There’s no highs and lows with him.”
Kalynuk has five assists over his past three games as the Badgers enter a series against No. 4 North Dakota tonight and Saturday at the Kohl Center.
One of the reasons why he has been trusted with being the sole defenseman on a power-play unit was displayed in the goals that were originally credited to him last weekend against St. Lawrence.
On a 4-on-3 power play Friday, Kalynuk waited an extra second to push the puck into a shooting lane before wristing it at the net. Credit for the goal was changed to Trent Frederic after the game because the puck deflected off his leg.
With the Badgers holding a two-man advantage on Saturday, Kalynuk settled the puck at the top of the formation and fired. That one got a piece of Ryan Wagner before going in.
“He can scan the ice before he gets the puck, and when it’s coming back to him he knows that space to shoot it in,” UW associate head coach Mark Strobel said. “That’s a gift.”
Through nine games, Kalynuk has been credited with 17 power-play shot attempts. Only three have been blocked by opposing skaters, while the goalie was forced to make a save on 10.
Those don’t include the two that resulted in goals because the shots on goal went to Frederic and Wagner.
Getting pucks through to the net is an innate ability, Osiecki said.
“Not everyone has that,” he said. “Some guys are going to blow it into shin pads, and he has a knack for getting it through all the time.”
Kalynuk’s shots may be getting through, but there was no way he was getting through a crush of interest after he decommitted from Western Michigan last season.
He signed a National Letter of Intent with the Broncos in 2014 and intended to join the team this season. But he said the outlook for playing time and scholarship money left him looking for a new destination last October.
When word got out, he heard from around 15 schools on the first day, he said. By the time the process was over, he estimated there was contact from around 30 teams.
The Badgers were in the latter group but were already on Kalynuk’s short list if they showed interest.
“From there, I came on a visit and it was said and done,” Kalynuk said.
Osiecki said he remembers watching Kalynuk and thinking that he was an embodiment of what the UW staff was trying to teach defensemen.
“His awareness going back for a puck, outstanding,” Osiecki said. “He knew where all four other players were at all times before he got the puck.”
Credit long hours on the ice in Kalynuk’s hometown of Virden, Manitoba, for some of that. His dad, Randy, is in charge of maintaining the outdoor rink in Virden, an oil town of a little more than 3,000 along Highway 1 in the southwestern part of the province.
Virden also has an indoor rink, but ice time there was so hard to come by that the outdoor Chevron Rink was the place to be.
“I basically lived there as a kid,” Kalynuk said. “After school, I’d walk there five minutes from school and I’d probably stay there until 8:30, 9 o’clock at night. I’d eat dinner there. That was pretty much my life growing up.”
After three seasons of development in the United States Hockey League, Kalynuk has made a positive impression in the opening five weeks of his collegiate career.
Badgers coach Tony Granato said he and Osiecki liked Kalynuk’s mobility on defense and his potential to be a high-level power-play player when they were recruiting him.
But they were just projecting until they saw him handle everything against college teams without making many rookie mistakes.
“We gave him the opportunity early,” Granato said. “And every test we’ve given him, he’s passed.”