There may still be a long way to go in the 2012-13 season, but after rounding out its first six games with a 1-4-1 record, the next few months might end up feeling even longer for the Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
Following a disheartening overtime loss to Colorado College (5-3, 2-0 WCHA) Friday, the Badgers (1-2-1 WCHA) had even less success Saturday, surrendering to the Tigers in a 3-0 shutout.
The series sweep by CC now brings UW’s losing streak against the Tigers to six straight games, and makes the next few games for the Badgers critical ones if they want to get back on track this season.
“It’s about taking it in, being emotionally stable, not letting ourselves get too low about it,” junior defender Frankie Simonelli said. “It’s the beginning of the year still; we are going into a bye week, we know there are still things we need to work on and hopefully we can accomplish those and get ready to go into Minnesota.”
The game started fairly positively for the Badgers – they held CC scoreless through the first period and had 11 shots, four more than their counterparts from Colorado.
But all that changed in the second period.
Early in the second, junior forward Mark Zengerle left the game with a broken left index finger that will keep him on the bench for the next four-to-six weeks.
Playing without Zengerle – who is considered to be one of UW’s most potent offensive weapons – the Badgers struggled to relieve pressure on their defense. Less than two minutes into the second period, the Tigers would break the deadlock with their first goal of the game from point-blank range in front of the Wisconsin net.
Obviously frustrated to be behind for the second night in a row, UW tempers flared throughout the rest of the game with a number of minor scuffles emerging between the two teams.
The rest of the second period would not get much better for the Badgers, as the Tiger offense would double its lead later in the second after a Tiger effort from an impossible angle to the left of the crease deflected off junior right winger Keegan Meuer’s stick and into the top shelf of the net.
Just a few moments later, the Badgers thought they had pulled a quick goal right back when sophomore forward Matt Paape managed to push one across the goal line into the back of the CC net.
But in a play that would serve as a microcosm of the game for UW, Saturday night was not the Badgers’ night, and the referees called the goal back, claiming Paape had pushed the CC goaltender into his own goal in his scoring effort.
Already down two goals, a dejected Badger team would allow one more before the day was done, handing the Tigers a commanding 3-0 victory by the time the clock had expired.
“It was just a tough day at the office,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “Sometimes it’s just like you are biking into the wind or swimming into the stream. It certainly felt like that today especially, but [also] this whole weekend.”
Badgers lose home opener late in high-scoring affair
In a solid offensive performance from UW Friday night, the Badgers scored four goals over the course of the game – the highest total from the Badgers so far this season – only to cave later, giving CC its first win in its last four games.
After two first period goals from junior left winger Michael Mersch and sophomore left winger Brad Navin to put UW ahead, the defense squandered their two-goal margin. Just six minutes into the second period, the Badgers saw their two-goal advantage shrink to one on a Tiger shot from the middle of the slot.
Then, a still-reeling UW defense let another goal slip in from the left circle less than two minutes later, completely erasing the comfortable margin the Badgers had built earlier in the game.
Eaves said after the game even when UW had a one-goal cushion after the first period, the lead never looked safe, citing the larger Kohl Center rink for providing many issues for UW in the team’s first conference game on its home ice.
“We haven’t skated on this sheet of ice since forever, the beginning of October, and it looked like it at times,” Eaves said. “[The rink] is five feet wider, but when you multiply that by 200 feet that is a lot more square feet.
“At times we had bad gap, and it made things a little bit more difficult for me. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a reason, but we need to fix that and get it going.”
Although Meuer would score a key goal late in the third to bring the game to a 4-4 tie at the end of regulation, it only took 25 seconds for CC to score the game-ending goal in overtime.
The speed with which Colorado College scored the final goal silenced the home crowd, and ruined a night that may be better remembered for the dedication of the Kohl Center ice to former UW hockey coach Bob Johnson in a pregame ceremony.
For Meuer, whose grandfather was good friends with the late Bob Johnson, the ceremony and game had special meaning, making the loss even more difficult to swallow.
“It’s really special to me because my grandfather was Bob Johnson’s best friend,” Meuer said. “Without my grandfather meeting him, I never would have played hockey.
“That being said, once the ceremony was over, it’s game time, and the result is really frustrating.”
Follow Nick on Twitter