The Badgers were riding high entering into their two-game series at North Dakota. Wisconsin had gone 11 games unbeaten in conference play and had pulled within striking distance of first place in the WCHA.
However, the night belonged to North Dakota, who put in four goals in the first two periods to take an insurmountable lead against the Badgers. The lone Wisconsin goal came in the third period off the stick of junior center Mark Zengerle.
The frustration of the Badgers oozed out on and off the ice. The team combined for 16 penalties, nine of which resulted from a fight with less than a minute to play. The frustration continued off the rink after the game during interviews.
“We just didn’t come out to play right from the start,” captain John Ramage said.
In a press conference Monday, it was evident head coach Mike Eaves still had a bitter taste in his mouth from the game.
“I found myself being distraught yesterday watching the video,” Eaves said.
Eaves continues to say the cards just were not in Wisconsin’s favor in the game. North Dakota’s second goal, a power play goal, slid past three Wisconsin defenders to the back post before being put in by North Dakota Defender Joe Gleason, prompting Eaves to call it “an almost miracle pass.”
Despite North Dakota being ranked eighth in the nation, there was still a strong expectation the streaking Badgers could come away with more points in the series.
“I was disappointed because I think our expectations have grown,” Eaves said. “Which is a good thing and we just need to get back to winning.”
These expectations and standards are a positive for the Badger hockey team. It breeds confidence, something the team will need in the final stretch of the season. Wisconsin plays the top three teams in the WCHA in its four remaining conference series. If the Badgers can follow their coach’s advice and get back to winning, the team has a good chance to gain momentum going into the WCHA tournament.
Power Play Woes
Once again the Badgers face issues with their power play squad after being shut out with the man-advantage four times in Saturday’s game against North Dakota. The power play has been a weak point for the Badgers this season, and once again Eaves was forced to discuss the shortcomings of the power play unit. For the most part, Eaves focused on the psychological issues that seem to affect the Badgers power play unit.
“I think they are at the point where [the media] is talking about it, [the coaches] are talking about it, so it’s at the forefront of their mind,” Eaves said.
He believes the key to fixing Wisconsin’s power play woes is to “step back and relax and just play a little bit.”
However despite this advice, Eaves also acknowledged the fact senior Derek Lee and sophomore Jake McCabe both play key roles in the power play. Without them healthy, the Wisconsin power play will continue to struggle.
Dealing with Injuries
Both Lee and McCabe are questionable for this week’s series against Bemidji State. Lee has been dealing with lingering headaches while McCabe is battling an ankle injury.
Eaves described both players’ statuses as “sketchy” for this week.
McCabe’s status is unknown until X-rays can help further evaluate his condition. If the Badgers lose McCabe, they are losing their second-best power play scorer and one of the Badgers best defensemen.
“Derek Lee is somewhat better,” Eaves said. “We are trying to decide if it is the neck muscles that are causing these lingering headaches or if it is the brain. He has been able to go to school and do all his cognitive stuff, so we are looking at it just being the neck.”
His condition is being evaluated early this week through a series of tests to determine if he will be able to play this weekend. If Lee is unable to go, the Badgers will be without their leader in assists.
The sooner McCabe and Lee are able to heal from their injuries, the sooner Wisconsin will be in a better position on the power play, and on the ice in general.