Tied 1-1 with less than four minutes to play, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team was vying for a game-winning goal and looking to its many veteran players to come up with the big score.
But it was the new guy in the No. 21 jersey that found the back of the net for the Badgers to seal in a 2-1 victory and a series sweep against Northern Michigan to open the season, following UW’s 5-2 victory Friday night.
Freshman forward Grant Besse scored the game-winning goal off a pass from senior forward Michael Mersch, rebounding his own shot just outside the right of the crease.
“He has that innate ability. Not only did he make the shot, he followed his shot to the net, got his rebound — it hit his shin pad and goes down to his blade — and he knows what to do with it,” head coach Mike Eaves said.
“Every game is a riddle with a non-textbook answer, and we found that answer tonight with young Grant finding the back of the net.”
The Wildcats were not without a fight in game two. Though off to a slow start Friday night and never finding a rhythm, NMU came out with more jump and intensity Saturday evening, putting Wisconsin on it’s toes from the start. Both teams started new goaltenders Saturday with sophomore Michael Doan getting the nod for Northern Michigan and junior Joel Rumpel taking over for UW.
Doan was the first to give way to a goal as Badger sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles found a way to the back of the net 8 minutes, 11 seconds into the game. After taking the puck through center ice, Kerdiles fired a rocket that soared through Doan to put UW up 1-0. With the goal, Kerdiles has now recorded a point in 14-straight games for UW, including two assists Friday night.
“I think I feel pretty comfortable right now. … I think we have a lot of confidence as a group and I think that is translating a little bit to my game right now. Confidence is important to feel good on the ice,” Kerdiles said. “I think things are just falling into place for me right now.”
Following Kerdiles’s goal the Badgers and Wildcats traded off of power play opportunities through the end the second period. Though unable to score in the middle period, Wisconsin outshot Northern Michigan 7-5, 20-12 through both periods.
The third period brought a new fire to the skates of Northern Michigan and its dominant play brought an equalizing goal 9:20 into the final period. Junior defenseman Luke Eibler ripped a shot from the top of the slot that Rumpel couldn’t adjust to in time.
“It felt like his whole body and shot angle was going blocker and then all of a sudden, I don’t know, [Mark Zengerle] said it might have touched his stick, but it looked like it changed direction and kind of hand cuffed me as I was sliding blocker and it went glove,” Rumpel said.
The goal served as a wake up call for Wisconsin, turning up the intensity to find that final goal from Besse to earn the team’s second win of the season.
Saturday’s victory earned Wisconsin its first 2-0 start to the season since 2004 and the first series sweep against Northern Michigan since 1996.