|Mersch celebrates his first goal of the season|
LA Kings GM Dean Lombardi had a plan five years ago and it was simple. Stock the team’s farm system with goalies first, then defenseman and eventually get to the forwards.
And over the last few drafts he’s picked up quite a few potential power forwards, including Michael Mersch – now a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin.
This weekend, he and his Badger teammates hosted the nation’s fifth-ranked North Dakota Fighting Sioux – a team that includes the Kings first round draft pick from 2010, defenseman Derek Forbort.
The two prospects had spent some time together over the summer, both at Development Camp with the Kings (in July) and an evaluation camp for Team USA the following month.
However, the two weren’t very friendly this weekend. “We actually didn’t even get a chance to talk,” said Mersch. “We were both focused on the games. They’re a huge rival and we both just wanted to help our teams out.”
Mersch certainly did his part. He scored a goal in Friday’s opening contest – a game Wisconsin won 5-3.
“We had a power play carry over from the first period and I slid off back door, the puck came across the crease and I just whacked it home,” was how Mersch described his contribution in the second period.
Regarding any confidence that win might have given them heading into the second game, Mersch said – “You try to take it game by game, but getting the win on Friday was huge and our momentum carried over into Saturday. We were able to get it done by just putting shots on goal and we took advantage of it.”
Wisconsin won that second contest by a score of 5-4.
“It should help boost us in the rankings,” Mersch said. “But, I’m not really into checking those things. I have no idea what they are or if they came out. But, hopefully, we’ll move up after a couple of big wins this weekend.”
[note: Wisconsin is still un-ranked as of today's new rankings. North Dakota dropped to twelfth after the two losses. The teams will rematch later this season in Grand Forks.]
Back on campus, Mersch hasn’t seen many changes since being drafted by the Kings in June.
“Not really. It was an honor to be drafted by the Kings, but I just love playing hockey and being out there on the ice. So, I want to keep playing and doing the things I’ve been doing that have got me to where I am right now.”
That said, there are still things he’s working to improve and the Kings have mutliple links to a few of them.
“I’m still trying to work some of the things I learned at camp into my game,” said Mersch of his time at Kings Development Camp. “Things like trying to keep my elbow down while I’m stick-handling, smooth out my passes, just a bunch of little parts of my game. When I can (incorporate) all of that, it will make me an even better player.”
Former Kings forward, Gary Shuchuk, is now an assistant coach at Wisconsin and Mersch also credits him for part of his continual improvement.
“He has a lot to offer our team. Specifically for the forwards, he has a lot of little tricks and he’s helped me with my play in the corners and stuff like that during practice.”
Do the players relate to Shuchuk as the former Badger who won a National Championship there (and led the team in goals) or as a former NHL player?
“A little bit of both. He knows how to win games, obviously. He’s carrying that over now to being a coach. So, being a former NHLer and a former Badger is huge. We all look up to him and want to do the things he’s done. When he has something to say, we all listen closely and take it in.”
Is he still rocking that mullet?
“No. He has a clean look now. I haven’t even seen a picture of that actually,” said Mersch. “I’m going to need to look that up!”
While Shuchuk was more of a grinder for the Kings, many have Mersch projected as a power forward. Is that how he sees his game developing?
“Absolutely. I’m a big body and I’m pretty strong in the corners. So, those are the things that have helped me become who I am. I’m going to use those parts of my game to become a good hockey player.”
As a Kings prospect, he tries to follow the team now. Admittedly though, it’s had some challenges.
“I like to keep up with how the Kings are doing, see the things that are going on with the players and the organization. I’m always rooting for them,” shared Mersch. “The Center Ice package isn’t fitting into the budget right now though for me and my roommate. But, a couple of the guys on our team live upstairs and they have it. So, we’ve had the chance to go in there and watch a couple games.”
In two weeks, he’ll take on another Kings prospect – Kevin Gravel – when the Badgers play St. Cloud State.
“He’s a good player too and I’ll be looking out for him. Those should be some good games up there. Hopefully we can come out with a couple wins.”