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Hockey: Badgers duo will strut their stuff for NHL brass

The biggest job interview of Jake McCabe’s young life will involve deep conversations, a sweat-drenched outfit and, perhaps, a lost lunch.

McCabe, who will be a sophomore with the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, says he’s ready for just about anything when the invitation-only NHL scouting combine is held today through Saturday in Toronto.

The annual gathering brings 105 top prospects together for interviews with team officials as well as a series of 13 physical tests, some of which are notoriously demanding. The insights gathered by the 30 clubs will help them decide whom to select during the entry draft June 22 and 23 in Pittsburgh.

“I’m just going to go in there and tell them what kind of player I am and what kind of person I am,” said McCabe, a defenseman from Eau Claire. “I think that should be good enough.”

A similar approach will be taken by incoming UW freshman Nic Kerdiles, a center/left winger who hails from the same U.S. National Team Developmental Program as McCabe.

“It’s a job I’ve always wanted to have and basically it’s time to put it out there so they know what they’re getting,” Kerdiles said. “Every team I meet with I’m going to be myself.”

The latest issue of Red Line Report, an independent international scouting service, has Kerdiles ranked 47th (second round) and McCabe 61st (third round). There’s a chance each could jump into the first and second round, respectively.

McCabe is coming off a freshman season that began with a challenge — he missed 11 games with a lacerated tendon in his left hand — but finished with him playing key minutes in all situations en route to 12 points in 26 games (3 goals, 9 assists).

Kerdiles, meanwhile, led the under-18 team with 22 goals and 48 points in 54 games and was a standout for Team USA in its drive to a fourth straight gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships.

Most of the combine invitees play for Major Junior programs in Canada (61) while 23 have committed to U.S. colleges. Michigan has three players taking part, while Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Nebraska-Omaha, Ohio State, Providence College and UW send two participants each.

The combine has two distinct stages — individual interviews with NHL teams, giving way to two days of physical and medical testing — that offer different levels of intimidation.

McCabe, one of two players with college experience included in the combine, and Kerdiles, one of five participants from the NTDP based in Ann Arbor, Mich., expect the face-to-face meetings to be the less stressful aspect of the week.

“I’m pretty comfortable in that setting,” McCabe said.

“It will be fun, but very nerve-wracking, too,” Kerdiles said.

All eyes will be on the prospects when they take part in fitness testing Friday and Saturday at the Toronto International Center. In addition to staples such as bench press repetitions, long jump and vertical jump, there are two ominous stationary bike challenges: the VO2 Max, which measures endurance and aerobic capacity, and the Wingate Cycle Ergometer, which defines power output during a 30-second burst.

McCabe, 18, spent time earlier this month with Jim Snider, the UW strength and conditioning coach, for training sessions that focused specifically on the combine tests.

“He’s making sure I do well,” McCabe said of Snider. “He doesn’t want me to put a bad name on Wisconsin. I’m one of the few college guys up there so he said I should be tearing it up.”

McCabe said the two bike tests are conducted back-to-back with a 5-minute rest in between. Previous combines are rife with episodes of players getting off the Max bike — two players last year topped 14 minutes — and adjourning to the nearby trash can to vomit.

In the process of replicating those two tests at Kohl Center workouts with Snider, McCabe said, “I found my way to the garbage can pretty quick.”

Kerdiles, 18, made a special trip to Toronto to see first-hand how the tests are conducted.

“All their (tests) are tough to prepare for,” he said.

The combine will help employers decide if McCabe and Kerdiles fit in their organizations. McCabe said he’ll be happy going anywhere in the top three rounds. Kerdiles acknowledged being a first-round pick is a goal of his, but said he’ll be happy wherever he goes.

“Besides, they say the most important day isn’t the draft,” Kerdiles said, “but the days after.”