After honoring Derek Stepan, John Ramage, Jake Gardiner and assistant coach Mark Osiecki for their gold medal efforts in the World Juniors tournament before Saturday’s game, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team looked at the opposing bench and saw more USA hockey – this time it was the 18 and under version.
The Badgers welcomed teenagers loaded with talent and potential to the Kohl center ice as college hockey’s future stars got a chance to take down the no. 4 team in the nation. Interestingly enough, Frankie Simonelli and Michael Mersch, two players on the under-18 roster, will be playing for Wisconsin in the near future.
Senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion played for the U.S. National Team Developmental Program under-18 team earlier in his career and he spoke to his team prior to the game about the mindset the young Americans would be bringing into a D-1 arena.
“They know they don’t have a lot of pressure, they’re supposed to lose. They come in loosey-goosey and come in playing hard and see what happens,” Geoffrion said. “That was always the message when we were Team USA. Come in playing hard and you never know what’s going to happen.”
But head coach Mike Eaves and his players weren’t about to let an upset occur on their ice, as the Badgers dominated en route to a comfortable 7-1 victory. Eaves knew it was going to be a challenge to get his players motivated for an exhibition game, but his team responded well.
“I thought as the game went along, especially in the second period, you could see our competitive edge come out in our guys,” Eaves said. “They were beating us to the puck, they were beating us to the net and that didn’t sit very well with our guys. We just picked it up from that moment on and continued throughout the game.”
The Badgers were locked in a tight game with team USA after the first intermission, but UW cranked up the intensity scoring six goals in the final two periods. Geoffrion continued his dominance with the man-advantage, scoring two powerplay goals and fellow senior Michael Davies continued his hot streak scoring two of his own.
Brett Bennett got the start in net for the Badgers, his first since suffering a shoulder injury in early December. Scott Gudmandson stepped in admirably winning each of his starts in Bennett’s absence.
That turned Saturday’s game into an opportunity for Bennett to make a statement of his own.
“I know yesterday in practice that even in the shootout he was really focused,” Eaves said. “I was kind of worried that he would be too wired to play tonight, but he was good early and then he didn’t have much work later on. But he was sharp and that was a good chance for him to get back into it.”
With Saturday’s win, the Badgers now have a seven game unbeaten streak as the ready themselves for a tough stretch where UW will take on Colorado College, Denver, and Minnesota Duluth in the coming weeks.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. Three weekends in a row in the WCHA and we’re all looking forward to the challenge,” Geoffrion said. “For us we just got to keep playing hard every night, keep coming together as a team as we work towards our goal of a national championship.”