An Unexpected Kick Start

Known mainly for his no-nonsense game, NHL pedigree and odd uniform number, freshman John Ramage is starting to change that perception. Heading into a rivalry series against Minnesota, Ramage is starting to change the perception that he can't pick up some of the slack left by Jamie McBain.

MADISON -For Wisconsin hockey fans used to watching WCHA Player of the Year Jamie McBain dominate in the offensive zone last season, freshman defenseman John Ramage's two-goal weekend against New Hampshire would hardly stick out.

For those fans who have watched Ramage skate in the USA National Team Development Program, however, they could be forgiven if they called up the WCHA to report a misprint on the statistics sheet.

Playing 54 games last season with USNTDP, Ramage finished the year with a whopping total of two goals and 10 points for the Under-18 team. That was a good weekend for McBain.

Safe to say, "stay-at-home defenseman" was near the top of every scouting bio Ramage collected.

"I just want to make sure my own end gets taken care of first," Ramage said "And if the offense comes then great, but if not, and I keep those high numbers for defense, that's all I care about."

Still, through six games in his rookie year with the Badgers and heading into a WCHA series against border-rival Minnesota this Friday and Saturday, Ramage has slapped home two goals and collected three assists, tying him for second on the team in points with sophomore forward Derek Stepan.

As UW head coach Mike Eaves explains it, Ramage has always had some offensive skills, he was just never put in a position to use them.

"It has been a nice surprise," Eaves said. "I think we have asked all of our defensemen to be involved in our offensive rush and be there. I don't if where he has played before that was a part of his role.

"He has always had a good shot and maybe he is in more of a position to use it, and it has come to highlight itself."

Junior defenseman Brendan Smith — the other half to Ramage's defensive pair — agrees with his head coach.

Often playing on the same line as McBain last season, Smith understands what offensive talent in a defenseman looks like, and though Ramage is clearly not at McBain's level (who is?), he sees much more skill in Ramage than a typical "stay-at-home" defenseman brings to the table.

"McBain is by far the best defenseman skills wise I have ever played with," Smith said. "So I guess offensively it's a little different, but ‘Rammer's' physical ability — he is so strong and so big — he creates room for me.

"I think its fair and safe to say he is a stay at home defenseman, but you are going to see him with some offensive ability too."

With Smith leading the team in points at nine in five games, UW — counter intuitively enough — puts their best goal scoring line out when Ramage is on the ice.

Combining Smith's offensive nature with Ramage's defensive mindset, Eaves' has found a D-pairing that complements each other better than any on the team so far.

"He just gets in the corners and mucks it up, so I can just come in and pick up the puck," Smith said with a smile. "It gets me the puck a little more, so I enjoy that."

"[Smith] just creates so much offense, when teams are focusing on him, it allows me to get open so much," Ramage added.

Yet when talking about scoring two goals against New Hampshire, Ramage also likes to point with pride to the "+3" he picked up in both games.

According to Smith, the plus/minus statistic provides the best measure of a defensively oriented defenseman's success.

Seeing as McBain finished with a team-high 37 points last year, but also posted a team low "-10", it clearly is not a statistic offensively aggressive defensemen put much stock in.

"I think plus/minus is a huge thing for defensemen," Smith said. "For a very stay at home defensive player, they want their plus/minus great. They want a good plus on their sheet. But for a player like Jamie McBain who we kind of leaned on to do a lot offensively…may have put him in that area where he was a minus."

Minnesota (2-3-1, 2-3-1 WCHA) vs. No.17 Wisconsin (3-2-1, 1-2-1 WCHA) vs.

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday, November 6-7 at 7 p.m. CT

Arena – Kohl Center (15,237, Rink - 200' x 97')

Television - Live Friday on TVW (Paul Braun/Rob Andringa) and FSN Minnesota. Live Saturday on WISC-TV (Paul Braun/Rob Andringa) and FSN Minnesota. Delayed replay both nights on WPT at 11 p.m. (Robb Vogel/Theran Welsh). Follow Badger Nation's free blog!

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

Series – Minnesota leads 150-82-18 (Minnesota leads 61-49-12 in Madison)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin captured a 5-4 victory at Minnesota on Feb. 7, 2009, completing a series sweep at Mariucci Arena after earning a 3-2 victory the previous evening.

Series Notes:

The games will mark the 251st and 252nd meetings between the two schools and is the most played rivalry in Wisconsin hockey history

Minnesota is the only WCHA opponent Wisconsin has a losing record against all-time

The Badgers went 2-1-1 against the Gophers in 2008-09

The two teams will meet again the final weekend of the regular season for a Friday-Sunday series. Friday's game will take place at the Target Center, while Sunday's will be at Mariucci Arena.

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