One week ago, he was the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player. Friday, Wisconsin junior Robbie Earl became the latest high-profile underclassman to leave school early for the pro ranks.
Earl, a native of Los Angeles, announced at a news conference at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis., that he has signed a contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Earl was selected in the sixth round, 187th overall, by Toronto in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Earl is expected to report to the Toronto Marlies, the American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate of the Maple Leafs, on Saturday and may skate for the team in Sunday’s game against Syracuse.
Earl helped pace the Badgers to their sixth NCAA title with a 2-1 victory over Boston College. In the Frozen Four, the winger scored three goals and one assist, including the game-winning, power-play goal against Maine and the game-tying goal against Boston College.
“It has been a tricky three days,” added Earl. “I didn’t expect it to happen this quick. It is kind of a double-edged sword — I am happy to be in this position to sign, but then again it is tough coming off the national championship, you’d like to be with your guys and celebrate a bit.”
Earl collected 14 goals and 27 points as a rookie before upping those numbers to a team-leading 20 goals and 44 points as a sophomore and a team-leading 24 goals and 50 points this season.
A 2005 Second-Team All-WCHA pick and a 2004 All-WCHA Rookie Team member, Earl finishes his UW career with 121 points (58 goals, 63 assists) to share 45th on the all-time UW scoring list.
“It was a very, very, very hard decision,” said Earl. “I haven’t been able to sleep much and I’ve been getting all the information I can. It is scary being young and taking the next step. I am just glad that I made my decision and I can move forward.”
Prior to joining the Badgers, Earl skated two seasons with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program under current UW head coach Mike Eaves.
Said Eaves, “I know I speak for the coaching staff and talking to some of his teammates and how excited they are for Robbie, the fact that he is going out as a national champion, the most outstanding player of the tournament. Those are both tremendous springboards to go to the next level and meet those challenges.”
Earl is the first Badger to leave early since defenseman Ryan Suter, following his freshman season of 2003-04.
“It is very much a hole for us,” Eaves acknowledged, “a tough one to fill. Not only do you lose a 24-goal scorer and 50-point guy, a big-game player and young man that is coming into his own in terms of his maturity and his leadership.
“What we’ll probably have to do is replace him by committee.”