When members of the Wisconsin men's hockey team refer to "Wisco hockey," it could mean many different things. But above all else, when you ask Andrew Joudrey, Jack Skille or other teammates, it means playing one complete game: three strong periods, 60 minutes of every Badger competing to the best of his ability.
After losing the first home game of the season to North Dakota Oct. 13 — the night the 2006 championship banner was raised — senior captain Joudrey looked at the loss as a lesson.
"We were lucky to tie the game up and play well in the second half, but it's a lesson we need to take into tomorrow night," Joudrey said. "It's got to be 60 minutes for us to be successful."
Though the Badgers (11-13-2, 8-9-1 WCHA) have had their share of ups and downs this season — a six-game losing streak, a sweep at then-No. 10 North Dakota shortly after the end of that streak, a 2-1 victory over top-ranked Minnesota — the way they have begun their games has become somewhat of a trend.
After losing 3-1 last Friday to Minnesota State in a game where Wisconsin was arguably more outplayed than the score indicates, Skille essentially repeated those early-season statements by Joudrey.
"It's just that we're not playing a full 60 minutes. The start of our games aren't strong at all," said Skille, a sophomore forward who's missed all but 11 games thanks to an injury and to playing in the 2006 IIHF World Junior Championships. "We're playing when we have to, not when we should.
"We should go out there right out of the gates and play our hardest," he continued. "But we only play hard when we're a couple goals down or when we're facing some adversity."
UW head coach Mike Eaves, who didn't completely agree when it was suggested the first period has been an issue for his Badgers this season, was both elated at his team's opening period Saturday and frustrated Wisconsin had not been able to bring that early intensity in the series opener.
"I wish we had it both nights," Eaves said. "Last night is over; today we went out there and tried to control what we control and having that type of start is what we needed to get us off on the right foot."
Wisconsin followed up that home opener, an overtime loss to the Sioux, with a hard-fought 1-0 victory, and Eaves praised his team for starting the game much better. This sequence was matched last weekend in Saturday's game when the Badgers outshot the Mavericks 17-2 after one period and rolled to a 4-1 win, backed by Skille's first career hat trick.
Freshman Michael Davies was the only Badger to connect on any of the 17 first-period shots, when he gave Wisconsin a 1-0 lead halfway through the period to highlight one of UW's most dominating periods of the season.
"I think there was little bit more of a jump in our step, definitely," Davies said. "I don't know what our record is, but whenever we score the first goal, I think we control most of the game, and that's what we need to do."
Davies speaks the truth.
When Wisconsin scores first, its record is 7-4-1 this season. Conversely, when opponents score first, the Badgers are 4-9-1. But perhaps an even more glaring statistic involves the entirety of the opening period: When UW leads after 20 minutes, it is 5-2-0; and when losing after that point, the record is a paltry 1-6-0.
Seeing as the team that gets on the scoreboard first has such success in the game of hockey — and certainly in Wisconsin's 2006-07 season — Skille said the team is working hard to emphasize a fast start, especially on the road, this upcoming weekend at No. 15 Colorado College.
"We just have to go out and make a statement," Skille said. "We have to go out there and play hard Wisconsin hockey; go out there and play the body, and dump the puck in, get it in deep, and [show] their defensemen right away that our forwards are coming hard all night.
"We can't just sit back and let them come to us; we have to make a statement before they do."
Skille pointed to the 17-2 shooting difference in the first period when talking about what the Badgers need to do to start quickly. The previous night, when Wisconsin lost to MSU, the Badgers had just four shots in the first period, something that didn't sit well with the Madison native.
"That just shows, if you look at the shots, you can tell how we're playing," Skille said. "We should be in the double digits after the first period, and if we're not, then we're doing something wrong."
Skille concluded, as he and Joudrey have said time and time again this season:
"It's just a matter of us playing 60 minutes."