TORONTO- Justin Schultz has impressed a lot of people this AHL season, including his former teammate Jake Gardiner.
Playing for the Oklahoma City Barons, the 22-year-old rookie defencemen has six goals and 15 assists in 10 games, which is good for first in league scoring, and was recently named the AHL player-of-the-month for October.
“I texted him to congratulate him on the year so far,” said Gardiner. “I knew he’d have a lot of impact, didn’t know he’d be that good (though). He was a great player for Wisconsin.”
Gardiner and Schultz spent two seasons together playing at the University of Wisconsin as blue-line partners and both earned various honours for their offensive play.
In 2008, then with the Anaheim Ducks, GM Brian Burke drafted Gardiner and Schultz in consecutive rounds and it looked like they would turn pro together. Instead, Burke took over the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 and obtained Gardiner through a trade and Schultz decided to decline signing with Anaheim and test free agency.
As a free agent this past summer Schultz, a native of West Kelowna B.C., had many teams come his way for his services, including the Leafs, however he decided to sign with the Edmonton Oilers.
Admitting that playing pro together was always something they wanted to do, Gardiner made his best effort to get his college pal Schultz in Toronto, but it wasn’t the right fit.
“I came up for a meeting with management to see if we could get him to town but he felt Edmonton was the best spot for him,” said Gardiner.
Growing up in Deephaven, Minnesota, Gardiner didn’t meet Schultz until they were in university, but two years there were enough for them to become friends off the ice.
While they have spent many hours on the ice playing together, they have never actually faced-off against each other. They will have that chance on Nov. 13th when the Barons host the Toronto Marlies in the first of two meetings this season.
Since no one has found a way to shut down Schultz this season, Gardiner expects Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins to turn to him to figure out a way to slow down the offensive D-man.
“He’ll ask me a few questions,” said Gardiner.
Gardiner says that while in Oklahoma he and Schultz will most likely meet and catch up on life outside the rink, however when the puck drops he will be ready to play against his former teammate for the first time.
“For right now I’m happy for him, but excited to go against him,” said Gardiner.
In his second pro season, Gardiner has three goals and five points in eight games with the Marlies.