There wasn’t much more Scott Gudmandson could do.
The Wisconsin senior goaltender made 63 total saves on the weekend, but No. 10 North Dakota skated away with 4-2 and 1-0 wins over the No. 13 Badgers.
The Fighting Sioux were the next big test for a young Badger squad and UW found out how it measured up against a preseason Frozen Four favorite.
The verdict? Maybe next year, kids.
Last season, the Kohl Center was home to an experienced, deep team with a standout defensive corps. This weekend, the team was in the building – it was just wearing black and green.
Gudmandson kept Wisconsin (6-4-2) in the game all of Saturday, giving up a goal to Matt Frattin at 8:44 in the second with North Dakota (7-4-1) on the power play. The shot from behind the right circle got past Gudmandson to give UND a 1-0 lead.
Entering the third period, UW still trailed just 1-0 and an Evan Trupp charging penalty gave the Badgers their own power play. A frustrating night on offense got a slight reprieve when Derek Lee found defenseman John Ramage at the right point, slapping a shot past UND goaltender Aaron Dell to tie the game 1-1.
The tie didn’t last long though, as less than two minutes later, Corban Knight got a stick on a puck to deflect it in past Gudmandson for a 2-1 UND lead. Knight struck again just 2:21 later, to put the Sioux up 3-1.
Frattin would add his second and Justin Schultz’s goal to make it 4-2 was all the offense the Badgers would get for the rest of the game.
It was exactly the kind of game head coach Mike Eaves thought he would have seen already.
“I think some eyebrows have been raised and were raised by our pretty good start. This is more of what I thought we would see early: our goaltending having to play well, letting us hang around and try to find a way to win the game,” he said. “We’re going through some growing pains right now.”
Even many of the veterans on the team are just sophomores. Assistant captain Craig Smith took a delay of game penalty giving UND the power play it needed to go up 3-1.
North Dakota on the other hand, is full of experience, a big reason the Sioux were expected to win the WCHA. Eaves characterized them as more assertive than the Badgers.
“The way they got to time and space better than we did,” he said. “That’s one of the thing we were coaching on this bench: we spent too much time gliding, rather than striding and getting there.”
“I think we were playing on our heels both nights,” Schultz added. “They were playing on their toes and we were just standing back, waiting for something to happen; we didn’t really take it to them at all.”
The four goals on the scoreboard hide the outstanding effort the Badgers got from Gudmandson. Time and time again he came up with pad and glove saves, including a highlight-reel point-blank glove save as he tumbled to his side.
Friday night’s game was more indicative of his play, in the 1-0 loss.
Usually, when a team takes two five minute majors in a game, it doesn’t deserve to win. And when a team doesn’t score a goal on two five-minute power plays, it doesn’t deserve to win either.
So it looked like the Badgers were headed for a scoreless tie with the Sioux. Instead, a defensive miscue in transition allowed UND’s Jason Gregoire to skate in the zone undisturbed and he sent a wrist shot over Gudmandon’s right shoulder to give North Dakota a 1-0 lead that would hold up as the final.
“I thought I played well. But obviously I’d like that last goal back,” Gudmandson said. “Guy made a pretty nice shot, but other than that I thought I played pretty well.”
UW was outshot 25-16 Friday and 43-16 Saturday, forcing Gudmandson to stay busy. More tellingly though, Wisconsin was simply outplayed most of the series, as the Sioux controlled the flow of the game.
UW’s power play, which came into the series at 30.6 percent, went 0-6 Friday, managing just five shots in the 18 total minutes with the man advantage. The way North Dakota stifled the Wisconsin attack was reminiscent of Boston College’s shutout of the Badgers in the national title game back in April.
“They had two or three levels, it reminded me of the championship game against BC, where they did the same type of things,” Eaves said. “And our ability to slide a guy off and get somebody open was something I don’t think we did very well.”
In UND, the Badgers saw the team they were last season and the team they still could be — eventually. But no series exposed Wisconsin’s youth like this one did, giving Eaves plenty of teaching points.
While the lessons to be learned are aplenty, there’s no worry on the coach’s part.
“With a young group, I’m not that concerned,” Eaves said. “I think they can bounce back because they’re almost naïve. OK, we’ll go back to work and coaches are going to give us direction. Sometimes with young teams, that [naïveness] is a good thing.”