Incoming college freshmen are typically happy for what they are given throughout their first year of college hockey.
For defenseman Jake McCabe, the University of Wisconsin has given him a lot to be thankful for.
The Eau Claire, Wis. native has been mentored by two of the best defensemen in the NCAA in addition to large amounts of ice time in his first year with the Badgers. McCabe began his college career playing with pro-ready Justin Schultz and is currently paired with last year’s Team USA World Junior Championship captain John Ramage — both of which McCabe states he has learned a great deal from.
“I have gained a lot of confidence playing with Schultz and just seeing how poised he is with the puck,” said McCabe, who still plays with Schultz on the team’s top power play unit. “Ramage is more of a defensive guy which is something I need to focus on and be able to shut down a team’s top line is something we work on.”
McCabe comes to Wisconsin after playing two years at the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he honed his game into being one of the best two-way defensemen in this year’s draft class. McCabe has seen increased point totals since joining the NTDP, including last season where he tallied four goals and 12 assists in 46 games—good enough for second behind only Robbie Russo. This season, the six-foot-one defenseman has three goals and seven assists through 22 games.
McCabe talked to Future Considerations about his draft year, his time at the NTDP, and his outlook on the remainder of his freshman year at Wisconsin.
What has been the toughest aspect of your transition from the NTDP to the University of Wisconsin and what have you done to work through it this season?
Everything at this level happens so much faster so I’ve been focusing on getting quicker with my coaches. [Wisconsin Head Coach Mike Eaves] says sometimes that my poise bites me in the rear because I think I have more time than I actually do. What we’ve been working on is being that much more explosive so I can provide myself with that much more time to make plays and hop up in the rush.
What was it like watching all of your teammates on the U18 team go through their draft years while you had to wait until this year? Is it something that you see as an advantage?
Yeah, I look it as a good thing. I’m close to a lot of [my former teammates] so I can ask them about the combine and the interview process. We had a couple NHL general mangers come in last year and talk about what NHL clubs are looking for and that has really helped me this year.
You are going to end up playing significantly fewer games this season than you did last season at the NTDP. Have you ever pressed thinking that you have fewer games to showcase yourself?
I think I’ve been doing the exact opposite. I’ve been playing the exact way I need to play as a two-way defensemen. I want to be portrayed as a two-way defenseman and I think I’ve done that well this year so far.
It looks like you are going to end this year averaging the most points-per-game since you joined the NTDP despite being a freshman. Can you pinpoint a reason for this?
Being on the top power play definitely helps. I was on the first power play unit in Ann Arbor for a bit, but more so the second unit. I’m always out there for the start of the power play and even after the power play expires I’m sometimes still out there playing with Schultz. He makes things happen and a lot of times teams put too much attention on him and there I am sitting wide open.
You suffered a pretty freak injury that caused you to miss 11 games this season.
Yeah, it was pretty freaky. Five games into the season playing North Dakota, early in the game after my first or second shift I was on the bench and I took my glove off to grab some water. At the same time, one of the defensemen was making a change and met my hand halfway with his skate and cut my middle finger right at the knuckle. It was only a tiny little cut and I actually went back out there, but I realized I couldn’t move my finger. I went to the Emergency Room and it turned out I cut my middle finger tendon right in half. Quite the fluke injury, but not a whole lot I could really do about it.