In striving to find their way to the top of the WCHA standings, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team battled for a crucial victory against Bemidji State Saturday, winning 3-2 after a disappointing tie Friday night.
The Badgers (12-9-7, 9-6-7 WCHA) now sit tied for fifth place in the WCHA with 25 points – after earning three of four possible points this weekend – but are just six points back from first place. While Saturday’s win showed improvement from Friday’s 2-2 draw, the team struggled to remain consistent throughout the game, seeing a 3-0 lead become a one-goal game.
“I think the mood after the game was we got the two points, we landed a wounded plane, if you will,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “The fuel engine was on fire we got it on the tarmac which is a good thing. We’ve had a couple of storms here.”
Both the Badgers and Beavers (5-17-6, 4-13-5 WCHA) came out Saturday with an intensity and energy unseen Friday night. UW got out to an early lead, scoring two goals in the first 13 minutes of play.
Junior forward Keegan Meuer found himself with a wide open net 6:24 into the game after Beaver goaltender Mathieu Dugas found himself out of position behind the net and the puck heading for the back of the goal. Sophomore forward Brendan Woods followed up with a goal in the twelfth minute off a pass by junior forward Michael Mersch across the slot that Dugas did not have time to adjust for.
Freshman defenseman Kevin Schulze brought the Wisconsin to a commanding three-goal advantage halfway though the second period.
However the Beavers showed no signs of defeat and found themselves on a power play late in the second period after a tripping call on senior forward Derek Lee – who returned to the ice Saturday after missing the previous three games with a concussion. Senior forward Aaron McLeod quickly punished UW, getting the last touch on a lose puck in front of UW goaltender Landon Peterson just 15 seconds into the power play.
“We had the wind behind our back the first two periods I’d say, and we kind of let it slip away from us in the third,” Woods said. “They got a little spark.”
After starting the third period on the penalty kill due to a holding call late in the second, the Beavers successfully fended off a Wisconsin power play and brought their deficit to one just 3:14 into the period.
The absence of sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe due to an ankle injury and junior forward Tyler Barnes – who was sidelined for the game due to internal reasons – was apparent on the ice. Bemidji State maintained their momentum, outshooting UW 7-3 in the third period, but Wisconsin found a way to escape the Beavers’ last-minute surge to come away with the win.
Friday night’s tie was a similar story as the Badgers saw each of their leads erased by an equalizing Beaver goal.
Freshman forward Nic Kerdiles capitalized on a power play 11:55 into the first period. A shot through the crease by Woods left Kerdiles shooting at wide open net for a 1-0 Badger’s lead, but Beavers’ forward Phil Brewer found the back of the net with Badger goaltender Joel Rumpel out of position, tying the score halfway through the second period.
However, Rumpel and the Wisconsin defense regained momentum, successfully defending a two minute five-on-three Beaver power play after Woods and junior defender Frank Simonelli were handed cross-checking and tripping penalties, respectively.
“When you give up a bit of a weak [goal] you want to make up for it in a way and kind of give you team a chance to get back,” Rumpel said.
Momentum from the penalty kill allowed Wisconsin to again take the lead, as junior forward Sean Little scored with 59 seconds remaining in the second period, slicing a shot into the upper corner of the net.
Though it appeared Wisconsin was ready to add to its lead, it was the Beavers who took back the momentum and UW’s chance for a win, as a shot from inside the left circle by sophomore Danny Mattson tied the game with just under 14 minutes left of play in the third period.
Wisconsin remained determined to find victory, putting up 16 shots in the third period to the Beavers’ seven. Junior center Mark Zengerle failed to convert a one-on-one situation with Dugas off a pass up the center by Kerdiles with seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
“I think their D overcommitted and one slid a little and I just got down the middle,” Zengerle said. “It was a great play by Nic [Kerdiles] but no finish there.”
The five-minute overtime period saw little opportunity for either team, ending the game in an unsatisfying tie.
“These are the dog days of the second half of the WCHA and this weekend was one of those,” Eaves said. “We got three out of four points and now we need to get back to some basics in our own area.”