Preview: For Eaves and Country

While his numbers aren't eye catching, sophomore defenseman John Ramage continues to defy his own expectations. After thinking he was a long shot to crack UW's defensive rotation, Ramage has become one of the leaders for his team, and his country.

MADISON - Coming to Wisconsin as a tall, gangly freshman, John Ramage came as a realist.

Ramage saw a lineup that had three highly-touted NHL Draft picks on it. He saw his own game lack offensive firepower and knew he needed to grow into his 6-foot-1 frame by adding size, strength and a little bit of speed.

Ramage is still a realist after playing 41 games at Wisconsin last season, but the sophomore from St. Louis is setting his bar a little higher.

After helping Team USA win the gold medal at the 2010 IIHF World Junior Championship along with former Badger and Team USA captain Derek Stepan and current junior defenseman Jake Gardiner, it certainly wasn't a surprise to see Ramage's name as one of 29 players named to the preliminary roster for this year's championships.

Still, it was a surprise ... to the realist.

"It's definitely a great honor because there are a lot of good players out there," Ramage said. "To get the chance to represent Team USA is incredible."

After scoring only two goals in 10 assists last season, Ramage has elevated his game for No.16 Wisconsin (8-7-3, 4-6-2 WCHA). One of the leaders of the defense, Ramage has skated in all 18 games, tallying a goal and seven assists.

"He played a lot for a freshmen and losing three defensive early for the pros, he's not only stepped into a roll as an everyday player, a top four player, but also a good team leader," Assistant coach Bill Butters said. "He's one of the heart-and-soul guys on our team. He comes to play every night."

Ramage, who skated for the USA National Team Development Program in 2008-09 prior to coming to UW, had plenty of growing lessons his first year. He learned what it takes to compete on an international and national level, helping the Badgers reach the 2010 NCAA Finals, and was paired all season with Brendan Smith, a Hobey Baker finalists and current member of the Detroit Red Wings farm system.

"It all taught me that I needed to focus on my game," Ramage said. "Take one day at a time and try to get better every day. All that will take you places you'd never expect. I got both tastes last year of winning and losing, so you take those two moments and use them."

Despite losing Smith, Stepan and Cody Goloubef to the pros, Wisconsin's defensive corps is putting up staggering numbers heading into its conference series against Bemidji State (5-8-1, 4-7-1 WCHA), its final series before a two-week holiday break.

Wisconsin is the nation's top scoring blue line, averaging 3.06 points per game and 55 total points. UW's 17 goals from rear guards is the most in the country, while the 55 points are eight more than the next closest defensive corps.

The group is more than a scoring threat, as well. The Badgers posted their ?rst perfect penalty-killing weekend of the season with its 11-for-11 performance last weekend at Alaska Anchorage, raising UW's penalty kill to 83.1 percent (73-for-89) and into sixth among WCHA teams in all games.

"We do have six really good defensemen here and that's something a lot of college teams don't have," Ramage said. "I think we are really fortunate because we had a good freshman class and the older guys are stepping up with their roles."

A Ramage appearance would also make it the ninth consecutive year a Badger played in the World Junior Championship, but would force Ramage to miss Wisconsin's series with Massachusetts on Dec. 30-31.

Consider that the main reason one of the team's heart-and-soul guys is so adamant about putting two complete games together this weekend.

"It's tough because you want to be with the guys," Ramage said. "You want to help them out as much as you can and see them do well. It's hard leaving and going to play for another team, but it's still a great honor."

Bemidji State (5-8-1, 4-7-1 WCHA) vs. No.16 Wisconsin (8-7-3, 4-6-2 WCHA)

Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, December 10-11 at 7 p.m. CT

Stadium –Kohl Center (15,325) - 200' x 97'

Television - Friday live on TVW, Charter Extra, Time Warner Sports. Saturday live on FSN Wisconsin. Both games tape-delayed on Wisconsin Channel, With Friday's game at 11 p.m. and Saturday's airing at 10 p.m. Both games will also re-air the following day at noon.

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick, Mike Cerniglia)

Series – Wisconsin leads 1-0-0

Last Meeting – Wisconsin opened its run to the 2006 NCAA title with a 4-0 victory over Bemidji State at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., in the 2006 NCAA Midwest Regional on March 25, 2006.

Series Notes:

Bemidji State is in its first year as a member of the WCHA

Madison, Wis., native Jordan George is a sophomore for the Beavers and leads the team in scoring with 16 points

Sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz had his third multi-goal game of the season and second in three games with his two-goal game last Saturday at Alaska Anchorage.

Schultz' two-goal game, including two power- play goals, raised his total to 11 for the season, which is tied for the UW team lead and leads the nation's defense- men by four goals. He has six goals in his last four games.

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