Wisconsin forward Morgan Zulinick has called the Kohl Center — the second largest on-campus ice arena in the country with a seating capacity of 15,359 — home for the last three seasons but said nothing was more intense than performing music in front of a live audience.
“The first time playing in front of a crowd was way more nerve-racking than playing in front of fans,” he said. “When you’re playing hockey, you don’t really recognize the fans when you’re out there but that was the first time I had played music in front of a crowd.”
His first (and only) live performance was at the University of Wisconsin’s spring academic awards banquet in 2013 when then-teammate Jake McCabe joined Zulinick on-stage for an acoustic guitar performance of “Hallelujah”.
“I was real iffy about it for a while but then I got Jake McCabe to come on board and me and him performed in front of maybe a couple hundred people at the end of the year," Zulinick said. "It was really fun, it was the first time I’d ever really performed in front of people.”
The only thing more impressive than Zulinick’s on-ice resume — seven goals and 19 points in 48 games during the last two seasons for the Badgers — may be his musical talents.
At the age of five, Zulinick’s first hockey practices began around the same time he started piano lessons. From there, he learned how to play the guitar and later, the drums. He said music was always around in the Zulinick house as both parents play instruments, his sister plays piano and brother attended music school. A native of British Columbia, Canada, Zulinick said practicing music while he’s away at school is challenging.
“Now that I’m here, I don’t have all my instruments,” he said. “So when I go back home — I just went home for Christmas — that’s all we do is play music pretty much.”
Zulinick makes time to play guitar amidst his busy schedule. Despite managing team meetings, practices, schoolwork and exams, Zulinick tries to spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to enjoy some time with his guitar.
“If you have a tough game or things aren’t going so well at the rink, it’s always nice to come home and sit in your room and play,” he said. “It calms you down, for sure.”
With the Badgers in search of its first Big Ten Conference win this season, Zulinick will be called upon as he is tied for the team lead with three goals and returns with experience after last season’s team won the Big Ten tournament. In that six-team tournament, Zulinick recorded one goal and two assists in two games as the Badgers defeated Ohio State in the championship game.
MICHIGAN (2-1-0, 10-7-0)
OVERVIEW: The Wolverines will carry momentum into the second half of the season following its 16th Great Lakes Invitational championship last week. Following a rough 4-5-0 start to the season, Michigan has come alive thanks to strong special teams. Over the last five games, the power play has gone 8-for-18 while the penalty kill has been a perfect 16-for-16 in that span. Freshman defenseman Cutler Martin scored his second goal of the season in the GLI semifinal game against Michigan Tech, making it the 10th goal by a Wolverines' defenseman this season. In 2013-14, Michigan defenseman combined for just eight goals in 35 games. Four Wolverines — J.T. Compher, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Motte and Zach Werenski — will return to the lineup following their participation in the World Junior Championships on Jan. 5.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Senior forward Zach Hyman is off to the strongest start in his four seasons at Michigan. The Toronto native has already surpassed his career-high of 17 points from last season and is the team’s leader in goals (9) and points (20). Hyman is coming off of a strong performance in the GLI tallying two goals and an assist. The Florida Panthers fifth-round draft pick from 2010 recorded the game-winning goal in both tournament games and earned all-tournament team honors in Detroit. Hyman has now recorded five goals and 10 points in the team’s last seven games.
THIS WEEKEND: Off.
MICHIGAN STATE (1-2-1, 7-10-1)
OVERVIEW: The Spartans will hope to keep games low-scoring this season as the team has only reached the three-goal plateau in eight games this season. When reaching that mark, however, the Spartans are 45-6-5 under coach Tom Anastos scoring three-or-more goals in a game including a 6-1-1 record this season. The Spartans generate offensive opportunities but struggle to find the back of the net, having outshot its opponent in 12-of-17 games this season after doing so just 14 times all of last season. The Spartans rank first in the Big Ten in penalty kill efficiency at .84 percent, much of that credited to strong play in net from junior goaltender Jake Hildebrand and a team commitment to blocking shots. The Spartans have 267 blocked shots through 18 games this season, including 20 blocked shots in its 2-0 win over Ferris State in the GLI semifinal game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: As one of five seniors on the roster, forward Brent Darnell has stepped up his play from a season ago. After recording eight points in 31 games during the 2013-14 season, Darnell has already matched his totals in just 15 games this season. A native of Canton, Mich., Darnell has recorded three goals and six points in his last four games including a goal and assist in two games at the GLI tournament. In that four-game stretch, the 22-year-old recorded back-to-back multiple point games for the first time in his career since Dec. 2-3, 2011.
THIS WEEKEND: Off.
No. 8 MINNESOTA (1-0-1, 9-4-1)
OVERVIEW: The Gophers will host the 24th annual Mariucci Classic this weekend. It is a four-team tournament held at the Gophers’ home Mariucci Arena. Minnesota has won the tournament 13 times and could face two fellow USCHO Top 20 teams in Marrimack and UMass-Lowell. With the nation’s most efficient power play, the Gophers have converted on 17-of-50 opportunities this season, good for 34.0 percent rating. Goals on the man advantage come in bunches as the team has recorded multiple power-play goals in six games this season. Four Gophers have eclipsed the 10-point mark this season with forwards Kyle Rau, Justin Kloos and defenseman Mike Reilly each averaging more than a point per game. The team should play inspired during the second half of the season as coach Don Lucia needs nine more wins to tie Doug Woog (390) for the all-time coaching wins record at Minnesota.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Kyle Rau was named team captain for a second straight season in 2014; he’s the first player to serve as captain for two consecutive seasons since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. This honor should come as no surprise as no other Gopher has been as consistently productive as Rau, having lead the team last season with 40 points (14 goals and 26 assists) and reached the 40-point plateau in each of his three seasons at Minnesota. His senior season has been a familiar story, tied for the team-lead with 17 points in just 14 games. A key component to the team’s success, the Gophers have a 73-12-7 record when Rau records at least one point.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Merrimack, Jan. 2; vs. UML/RIT, Jan. 3
OHIO STATE (1-2-0, 5-9-1)
OVERVIEW: The Buckeyes have had nearly a month to dwell on a painful 8-3 loss at the hands of rival Michigan on Dec. 5th, just days before winter break. Ranked fifth out of six Big Ten teams with a penalty kill at 78.1 percent, Ohio State had just built some momentum — killing off 19-of-21 opportunities in six games — before it surrendered four power-play goals to Michigan. Offense has heated up as the season has progressed with the Buckeyes averaging just 2.50 goals per game but has scored three or more in five of the last eight games. In that stretch, Ohio State had 10 different skaters record a point in the 5-1 win over Notre Dame in the consolation game of the Shillelagh tournament on Thanksgiving weekend, including two goals from Tanner Fritz and three assists from Nick Schilkey.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior forward Anthony Greco settled into a scoring groove in 2014 and will hope to continue that with the New Year. In just 15 games, Greco has posted a team-best and career-high seven goals this season. Two of those goals have proved to be game-winners, which gives the native of Queens, N.Y., six in three seasons for Ohio State. Greco recorded two assists in the Buckeyes’ 5-1 win over Notre Dame, earning his fourth multiple point game of his career. Playing on the wing as a right-handed shot, Greco is one of two Buckeyes to record a power-play goal this season.
THIS WEEKEND: at Mercyhurst, Jan. 2-3
No. 20 PENN STATE (3-1-0, 9-6-2)
OVERVIEW: Many firsts are still to be achieved by a program in just its third season. After the holiday break, Penn State can add a national ranking to its list of accomplishments as the USCHO moved the Nittany Lions up to 20th in the country. Penn State suffered back-to-back losses on Monday — 4-2 to Robert Morris — and Tuesday — 4-1 to Western Michigan — despite outshooting opponents in both contests during the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh. That won’t spoil the Nittany Lions’ accomplishments thus far though, as the team has already matched its number of Big Ten conference wins from a season ago by defeating Michigan once and sweeping a two-game series with Wisconsin in early December. The power play also ranks fifth in the nation at 26.7 percent and generating 16 goals in the process.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Junior forward Casey Bailey is establishing himself as on of the top scorers in the conference, leading the pack with 11 goals in 17 games. Bailey adds eight assists to give him 19 points this season, which trails only Michigan’s Zach Hyman for the conference lead. From Anchorage, AK., Bailey has six multiple point games this season and has seven points (four goals and three assists) in the last seven games. The six-feet, three-inch, 205-pound winger leads the Nittany Lions with 88 shots, putting him 12 shots away from breaking the 100-mark for a third straight season.
THIS WEEKEND: Off.
WISCONSIN (0-2-0, 1-10-1)
OVERVIEW: Every team in the Big Ten has played at least two games but only the Badgers have yet to win a conference game after getting swept by Penn State during the first weekend of December. With 10 true freshmen on the roster and 11 Badgers making their collegiate hockey debuts this season, a challenging 2014-15 campaign with growing pains was expected after winning the Big Ten tournament and graduating nine seniors last season. Every freshman played in the Badgers opening weekend game against Alaska-Anchorage, making it the most freshmen to appear in a game for Wisconsin since Jan. 18, 2004. The Badgers’ only victory was in a 5-3 game over Ferris State at the Kohl Center in Wisconsin where the team will play 12 of the next 22 games to finish out the season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: As one of six seniors for the Badgers and one of two senior goalies, Joel Rumpel has been the go-to guy in net. Appearing in 10-of-12 games this season, Rumpel is just one win away from tying Julian Baretta, Bernd Bruckler and current St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliot for fifth all-time in Badgers history with 51 career wins. A finalist for both the Hobey Baker Award and Mike Richter Award last season, Rumpel holds a career 2.16 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 84 games for Wisconsin. The six-feet, three-inch Rumpel was also in net for the Badgers only win this season, making 30 saves in the 5-3 win over Ferris State.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Michigan Tech, Jan. 2-3.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.