Admirals Share Strong Ties to Badgers.
By Jason Karnosky
The Milwaukee Admirals have a rich tradition of employing former Wisconsin Badgers talent, and this year is no exception.
Three former Badgers are members of the current Admirals American Hockey League (AHL) roster—forward Mark Zengerle, plus defensemen Jack Dougherty and John Ramage.
“It’s been awesome to play here ‘close to home’,” said Ramage, who joined the Admirals at the 2018 trade deadline via a trade with Arizona. “I played with Mark Zengerle for three years at school and it’s been nice to join a team and already know a guy very well. With Jack, while I missed him at the school, it’s been nice to have that Wisconsin connection.”
Those three skaters are just the latest in a long line of players that transitioned to the professional ranks just 90 miles down Interstate-94 from Madison. Ryan Suter, Joe Piskula and Blake Geoffrion, are just of few of the ex-UW players that have donned a Milwaukee sweater. Others such as forward John Byce and goaltender Duane Derkson, who each won a National Championship as members of Wisconsin, played for Milwaukee during its International Hockey League days.
The road to Milwaukee (38-30-4-2—82 points) was considerably different for Zengele, Ramage and Dougherty, but each player is enjoying their time in the Brew City.
Dougherty took the more conventional route, as the Cottage Grove, Minnesota native played one season for the Badgers, followed by a year in Canadian juniors. The defenseman then joined the Admirals at the end of the 2015-16 season.
Dougherty was selected by Nashville in the second round of the 2014 NHL entry draft, and the 21-year-old is now on a developmental track building toward a roster spot on the Predators or another National Hockey League (NHL) team not too far down the road.
Zengerle went undrafted after a stellar four-year career at Wisconsin from 2010-14. He joined Grand Rapids and enjoyed two competitive years for the Griffins from 2014-16. After one season in Lehigh Valley, Zengerle started 2017-18 playing in Sweden for Linkopings HC before Milwaukee General Manger Paul Fenton came calling with a job opportunity.
“I started the season in Sweden and actually signed with Rochester, but got picked up by Milwaukee via AHL waivers,” Zengerle said. “It all worked out and it’s been great.”
Though he started the season late, Zengerle has a 32-point campaign to date, which ranks seventh on the squad.
“I like Milwaukee a lot as a city and it’s also very close to Madison,” Zengerle said. “I’ve had the opportunity to go back a few times to the Kohl Center and see a few of my buddies that went to school there. With the other places I’ve played at, I really haven’t had that opportunity.”
Zengerle has enjoyed sharing memories all season with Badger fans that flock to Admirals games.
“It’s been fun hanging out with the Badger fans that come to our games here and then stay around for autograph signings,” Zengerle said. “A lot of times they have pictures of me in college, and it’s fun seeing and signing those and reminiscing about that time in my life.”
Meanwhile, Milwaukee represents the third team this season for Ramage. The son of former NHL defenseman Rob Ramage, John played in the National Championship game his freshman season as member of Wisconsin.
The Mississauga, Ontario native enjoyed three more seasons in Madison before taking his place in the Calgary Flames organization. Ramage, a 2010 fourth-round pick, played in Abbotsford, Adirondack and Cleveland in the AHL, plus a single game each for Calgary and Columbus of the NHL prior to 2017-18. The 27-year-old won a Calder Cup title in 2016 for Lake Erie.
“Coming back here, I was extremely excited as Wisconsin has been good to me,” Ramage said. “Plus my wife is from a north suburb of Chicago and she has a lot of family in Wisconsin, so the comfort level is pretty high with our family.”
This year’s campaign started in Cleveland, but Ramage was later traded to the Arizona organization and later to Nashville’s organization during the season.
“The trade to Milwaukee was a little bit more difficult than when I moved to Tucson earlier in the year,” Ramage said. “I have a five-month old son, a wife and a golden retriever, so being in Arizona and then moving to Milwaukee was not the easiest travel schedule. All-in-all, I have to give kudos to my wife as she’s taken the brunt of the trades. It changes your perspective on being traded when you go through something like that.”
In Milwaukee Ramage got to meet up with good friend Zengerle, as the former teammates enjoyed three season in Madison together from 2011-2013.
“It’s been very cool to get the chance to play with (John),” Zengerle said. “I know he was very excited when he was traded here. It’s been cool for both of us, because neither of us had got the chance to play with a buddy from college before. We know one another very well and back in college as a team we did everything together.”
In 19 games for Milwaukee, all with playoff implications on the line, Ramage has been as solid as ever on the blue line, picking up three assists.
“It’s been a whirlwind couple of months, but I was definitely excited to be in Milwaukee and try to help this team make the playoffs,” Ramage said. “Being in a playoff battle every game, every game meant something.”
After falling in a shootout to Chicago on Tuesday night, Milwaukee will unfortunately miss this year’s postseason. That doesn’t take away from the enjoyment Dougherty, Ramage and Zengerle had playing for the Admirals this season.
“There have been highs and lows this year, and our division was very competitive,” Zengerle said. “Our hope and goal was to make the playoffs (but unfortunately that didn’t happen).”