In the course of discussing his oral commitment to the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, Cameron Rowe had to clear up two things — one about his past and one about his future.
Rowe, an 18-year-old goaltender whose future association with the Badgers was confirmed over the weekend, earlier this summer was released from a National Letter of Intent that he signed with North Dakota.
Reports that the North Dakota coaching staff was concerned about his potential to skip the college route and sign with a major junior team were true, Rowe said, but didn’t represent the whole story.
“At the same time that they were worried that I wasn’t fully committed to them, I was worried that they weren’t fully committed to me, either,” Rowe said. “It was a mix, back and forth. Ultimately, it was better for us to part ways.”
The other clarification could help to allay fears from the Badgers and their fans that they could be jilted by a committed goaltender in favor of an Ontario Hockey League team for the second time in six years.
A native of the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Illinois, Rowe was picked by the London Knights in the seventh round of the 2017 OHL draft. He said he has no future with the major junior team.
“Now I’m 100% committed to school and committed to Wisconsin,” he said. “That’s not going to be an issue moving forward.”
Rowe played the past two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program; he was teammates with incoming Badgers freshman forwards Alex Turcotte, Cole Caufield and Owen Lindmark. But he had limited playing time because of the success of No. 13 overall NHL draft pick and Boston College incoming freshman Spencer Knight.
As players give oral commitments to the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team, we'll add them here with their stats.
In 32 appearances last season, Rowe had forgettable statistics: an .872 save percentage and a 3.49 goals-against average. He wasn’t selected in last month’s NHL draft despite being ranked fourth among North American goaltenders.
He hopes a season as the No. 1 goalie with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League in 2019-20 will let him develop consistency.
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In Des Moines, Rowe will play for first-year Buccaneers coach Peter Mannino, who won the 2005 NCAA championship as a goaltender with Denver.
“Going to Des Moines, what’s very promising for me is that I can be there and play most of the games and be consistent and just get on a roll, get in rhythm and keep the season moving forward and win games,” Rowe said. “That’s going to be big for me because the big thing about elite goalies is that they keep getting reps and they keep playing consistent games.”
Rowe’s expected 2020 arrival at UW will coincide with the graduation departures of Jack Berry, who has started 44 games over the past three seasons, and Johan Blomquist, who has appeared only three times.
Daniel Lebedeff took the No. 1 goaltender role as a freshman last season but had a rough campaign (.893, 3.42) that included him being pulled from five of 26 starts. Still, he’s likely to be the No. 1 option when the Badgers open the 2019-20 season in October.
UW also has Germantown goaltender Noah Grannan, who’s about to enter his second and final season with the NTDP, among its committed recruits. He also could arrive as early as 2020.
College coaches don’t get as many chances to recruit goalies as they do forwards or defensemen, so getting the right ones in place is a must for a program to be successful. UW’s stumbles in goal have contributed to the team missing the NCAA tournament for the past five seasons.
Two summers ago, the Badgers shook up the position by bringing in graduate transfer Kyle Hayton from St. Lawrence. That prompted the departure of Matt Jurusik after two seasons with UW.
The move didn’t spark positive results: Hayton, a second-team All-American in his final season at St. Lawrence, had an .890 save percentage and a 3.09 goals-against average in 2017-18 for the Badgers, who were 14-19-4.
Jurusik himself was a late addition to the Badgers in 2015 after Luke Opilka left summer classes to sign in the OHL.
UW is the third school to which Rowe, listed at 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, has given a nonbinding oral commitment. Before making a pledge to North Dakota last October, he decommitted from Omaha.
“I never would have thought this would be a third time through,” Rowe said. “But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I think that there’s a major reason why I landed where I’m at now, and I’m excited moving forward with it. It’s just a great fit for me all around.”