ST. PAUL, Minn. — Barely a minute into the WCHA Final Five quarterfinal, junior winger Tyler Barnes stole the puck from the red line, carried it to the net and shot it past freshman goaltender — and all-conference netminder — Stephon Williams.
At the 1:03 mark, Wisconsin possessed a 1-0 lead. Over the course of the remaining 59 minutes No. 14 Wisconsin (20-12-7) extended that lead to a 7-2 win over No. 8 Minnesota State (24-13-3).
“The game was an interesting one,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “I don’t think that one would have suspected the amount of goals that we scored, but the puck went in net for us tonight … we actually thought we could have been better in some areas.”
While the Badgers eventually tallied seven goals, they jumped out to a 4-0 lead on the heels of a three-goal first period — marking their second consecutive game with a three-goal first frame.
After Barnes initially put Wisconsin on the board, junior centerman Jefferson Dahl netted a short-handed goal on a breakaway at the 6:11 mark. Taking the shot from practically the goal line, Dahl capitalized on what little space he had to net the goal, giving UW a 2-0 lead at the time.
“I knew I had a step on the guy and I just wanted to throw it on net and see what would happen,” Dahl said. “Fortunately it went in and didn’t miss the net.”
Just two minutes later, freshman winger Nic Kerdiles netted a soft goal on a pass from junior center Mark Zengerle in the slot. Williams got a piece of the puck on the shot, slowing it down, but he couldn’t cover it up before it trickled across the line, making it 3-0.
Kerdiles’ goal would eventually go in the books as the game winner, but Wisconsin more than iced the game with four more goals — starting with yet another short-handed goal from Dahl at the 8:50 mark of the second period.
Dahl had a hat trick for all of a minute before the third goal was waved off after Dahl was called for standing in the crease. The Eau Claire native also rang another short-handed attempt off the crossbar. After his effort, Dahl was awarded the one-star and player of the game honors.
“I can’t really put my finger on it,” Dahl said of his recent goal-scoring success against MSU. “The puck seems to go in when I play these guys. I just try to work hard and throw pucks at the net.”
While Dahl stood out offensively — particularly with two short-handed goals — Barnes led the offense, netting two goals and notching an assist on the afternoon. On his second goal, the Eagan, Minn., native was crashing to the net and falling as he sent the puck past Williams at the 12:24 mark of the second period.
Williams sustained an undisclosed injury on the play and was taken to the locker room. Senior Phil Cook took over between the pipes and despite facing only eight shots on goal, both junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli and sophomore winger Joseph LaBate were able to join in on the scoring action.
“One thing we’re really doing is we’re sticking to the hard work,” Barnes said. “We’ve had chances all year. Every line is getting chances in the game and now they’re starting to go in, which is a little reward for the hard work.”
“It’s a flow and ebb type of thing,” Eaves said. “We’re in a flow right now. We’re riding a wave. Earlier in the year we had very little at times. We’ve got the flow going right now and what we need to do is to try to extend that as long as we can.”
Before the contest was officially over, Minnesota State was able to tally a pair of its own special teams goals. After UW senior John Ramage took a five-minute major for charging, MSU sophomore defenseman Zach Palmquist netted the Mavericks’ first goal of the day at the 10:53 mark of the second frame — just under a minute and half into the power play.
Minnesota State’s senior forward Eriah Hayes scored his squad’s second goal just two minutes later — still working on the five-minute major power play — cutting UW’s lead to 5-2 at the time.
“I thought our power play was clicking there,” Hayes said. “They had two minutes or so left on the kill on Ramage’s five-minute penalty. I thought the boys were kind of starting to believe there … at no point did the guys on the bench quit. We talked in the locker room about believing we could do it and I thought we did all night.”
Despite only scoring two goals to UW’s seven on the afternoon, that’s not to say MSU didn’t produce any chances. The Mavericks outshot the Badgers 40-27 and had nine power play opportunities, producing 10 shots on man-advantage.
“We had a lot of chances there and I thought (Joel) Rumpel was pretty good,” Hayes said. “We had some good, quality chances right down in front.”
While the Badgers will revel in the win, it will only do so for a limited amount of time. With the win, Wisconsin advances to the WCHA semifinals, facing off with St. Cloud State — who it faced two weeks ago at the Coliseum, splitting the series — at 2 p.m. with a trip to the championship game on the line, and its season — yet again.
“It was a successful night for us tonight,” Barnes said. “We’re going to go back and watch the film, we’re going to learn from it and we’re just going to put it in the back of our minds. We have to have a short memory whether it’s good things or bad. You’ve got to prepare for the next game because it doesn’t carry over.”