Sometimes wins aren’t always pretty — a fact the Wisconsin men’s hockey team experienced Saturday.
In a 2-1 decision that led to a series sweep over Alaska-Anchorage (13-16-5, 1-15-4 WCHA), Wisconsin (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) sneaked by with the win Saturday thanks to two second period goals after a sluggish opening 20 minutes. When all was said and done, the Badgers only managed 19 shots on goal to the Seawolves 22.
“They grinded it out,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “[We had a] poor first period, had to jump in the second and got a couple goals. I really liked the way that the kids solved the riddle in the third period. We didn’t give up a lot in the third period at all.”
“We protected the puck well. There were a couple of ‘Grade A’ scoring chances, but not very many at all and when they pulled their goalie we were very solid. We looked like we knew what we were doing out there. We grinded it out and we solved the riddle on a night that was tough.”
Key to both goals was junior center Jefferson Dahl, who notched the game-winner and tallied an assist on Wisconsin’s first goal.
At the 4:31 mark of the second period Dahl cleaned up a rebound off a Frankie Simonelli rocket from the blue line.
Just three minutes earlier Dahl found junior forward Tyler Barnes across the slot where Barnes netted the back door shot for the 1-0 score.
After a weak first period, the Badgers held a 2-0 lead less than five minutes into the second period.
“On my assist, we wanted to establish pressure down low,” Dahl said. “There was a change and quick up to [Nic Kerdiles] and he made a great play around the defenseman. I caught it and saw Barnes back door and just tried to slide it over to him.”
“On the goal, [Sean Little] made a good pass to Frank and we talked about getting passes through, and Frank put a good one on net and there happened to be a rebound that found my stick.”
Alaska did get one back before the second period expired. Dahl took a penalty for holding the stick with 1:35 left in the period. Thirty-five seconds later, senior forward Jordan Kwas scored Alaska’s eighth power play goal of the season, cutting the Wisconsin lead and making it a 2-1 game.
But despite the rough start, the Badgers pulled out the ugly win — their tenth straight unbeaten conference contest — and moved into a tie for fourth place in the WCHA with North Dakota.
Barnes attributed the conference streak to a renewed confidence between teammates.
“The strides we’ve made over the year are pretty amazing,” Barnes said. “We started out having a rough time and not playing well together. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve changed is we’ve gotten used to the guys we’re playing with and we have more trust in the guys we’re playing with.”
Hot-shooting Badgers burn by Seawolves Friday night, 5-2
Friday night was a starkly different affair to Saturday’s 2-1 victory. Wisconsin came out hot and outshot Alaska 37-14 en route to a 5-2 decision.
With slightly shaken lines and minor changes on the power play, four different Badgers scored Friday with two power play goals from junior forward Michael Mersch — Wisconsin’s first man advantage goal in seven games.
Mersch’s first power play goal of the night came at the 9:04 mark of the second period. The Badgers already held a 2-1 lead after freshman forward Nic Kerdiles and Barnes each found the back of the net in the first period. Working with a new look on the power play, Mersch cleaned up a rebound on a Mark Zengerle shot to convert on Wisconsin’s second power play opportunity of the night.
The Badgers got one more chance on the man advantage in the third period and again Mersch came through, wristing in a shot from the face off dot — giving Wisconsin a 66 percent success rate on the power play Friday.
“It was definitely really big for us,” Mersch said. “We kind of just let things happen. We had some set plays, but we just kind of roamed around a bit more and things just clicked for us. It was really nice.”
Alaska-Anchorage scored a pair of goals — 6:59 into the first and 9:43 into the third — on two minor Wisconsin breakdowns. The first period goal, netted by Seawolves freshman forward Blake Tatchell, sputtered across the goal line after sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel couldn’t get a clean stop on it. Sophomore forward Scott Allen scored the Seawolves’ second goal after Rumpel got tangled up with a fellow Badger and was stuck lying on the ground, essentially leaving the net wide open.
Regardless of the breakdowns, Eaves was happy with his team’s overall effort, but knows they need to perform in the same manner consistently.
“In terms of where we’re at, I like the change in their game,” Eaves said. “It helps us go in the direction that we need to and it helps us have the type of production we need to have if we’re going to continue to play later in the year. It’s the start of a good thing, but we need to keep it going.”