Mark Zengerle and Wisconsin\’s first line has found their chemistry during the team\’s do-or-die stretch.
They put up 10 goals with 10 different Wisconsin men’s hockey players notching a point.
Rub your eyes. Read it over a few times. Maybe just sit and think about it. Anything to let that fact sink in.
After infamously starting the season 1-7-2, 1-5-2 in the WCHA and averaging only 1.8 goals per game, the Badgers’ offense has exploded as of late – and a 10-goal weekend over No. 16 Nebraska-Omaha is only the beginning.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s just about time? That type of thing,” junior center Mark Zengerle said. “Maybe the hockey gods are just kind of giving it to us.”
With a 1-7-2 record attached to its name, No. 14 Wisconsin went on a tear over its subsequent 24 games – ending at UNO – going 15-4-5 overall and 11-2-5 in conference. During that time, the Badgers accumulated an average 2.7 goals per game – sitting on an average 2.5 goals per game currently in the season – with 67 goals from 15 different players.
While 17 of their last 24 games have been multi-goal games, the Badgers have scored no less than two goals in their last eight, going 5-2-1 during that stretch with 27 goals.
There is no denying it – things are finally coming together for Wisconsin’s offense.
“Part of it has been the growing chemistry of [Tyler] Barnes, Zengerle and Mr. [Nic] Kerdiles,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “I think that they have led the charge in that aspect, and they’ve kind of caught on fire here a little bit. The guys that we’ve asked to chip in offensively, not carrying a big load, are doing that. That combination has really provided some goals for us.”
“Over the season, we’ve had a good amount of offense coming but its only been from one line,” Barnes said. “I think we’re starting to see it put together into more of a team push, rather than one line having a good game.”
Over the last six games, Eaves’ top line has combined for 25 points on eight goals and 17 assists. Zengerle leads the trio with 10 points on three goals and seven assists, Kerdiles has six points on two goals and four assists and Barnes rounds out the line with three goals and six assists for nine points in the last six games.
While Zengerle leads the line, Barnes’ nine points came after what could be referred to as a little inspiration.
After a 2-2 tie Friday, Feb. 8 with Bemidji State, Barnes reportedly missed a team meeting prior to Saturday’s series finale. As punishment, Eaves sat the junior winger for Saturday’s 3-2 win.
“Apparently, I should have sat him out earlier because then he would have started producing earlier,” Eaves said with a laugh. “I don’t know if you can quantify what happened. Maybe it was just timing, everything coming together for him. The kind of production that he’s had – if you go back and look over his scoring chances over the year, he’s had scoring chances, the puck hasn’t ended up in the net or his teammates haven’t been able to finish. But this weekend it all culminated for him.”
Since sitting out a game, Barnes has put together a career-high four-point game in a 5-0 win over Penn State and almost matched that mark last weekend with a goal and two assists in Saturday’s 6-2 decision over Nebraska-Omaha.
After a three-point weekend, Barnes’ nine goals on the season and 13 assists make him the third-highest scoring Badger with 22 points – behind junior Michael Mersch with 32 and Zengerle with 25.
Barnes attributed his recent success to the growing chemistry on his line.
“I think me, Mark and Kerdi are playing really well together as of late,” Barnes said. “I have to give as much credit to them for helping me get the opportunities I’m getting and I’m able to get them going.”
Zengerle, on the other hand, credits the winger’s style of play for his latest impact on the stat sheet.
“Barnes is just that type of guy when he’s playing aggressive that’s when he’s playing his best,” Zengerle said. “When he’s going in there skating hard, hitting guys and doing the dirty work – he can make nice plays as well, but he gets more of those nice plays when he’s playing aggressive and always moving his feet. That’s kind of what he’s been getting back to lately and production has been created because of that.”
While it is easy to say his missed game provided the necessary motivation for his recent performances, Barnes does not want to cite it specifically, noting “you can take that either way.”
Once again, Zengerle believes the benching “probably lit a little fire under his butt,” but also added it really comes down to how aggressive Barnes has played lately.
Whether it is Barnes, Zengerle or any of the other 16 badgers on the ice, Wisconsin feels it needs to find a way to keep its offense rolling.
“It’s that time of the year where you have to play desperate,” Zengerle said. “Especially with the spot we’re in. You have to win or your season’s going to be over. That definitely helps with a little offensive production.”