This wasn’t the way Badger men’s hockey coach Mike Eaves envisioned the year starting.
But after a 2-2 tie Friday and a 5-2 loss Saturday against Minnesota, Wisconsin is still searching for its first win six games into the season.
Ryan Stoa did his part to make sure the Badgers remained winless, scoring an unassisted goal just six seconds into Saturday’s game. The goal by the junior forward was the fastest goal scored against Wisconsin in the program’s history.
“First of all, I would say that they got the goal, but it wasn’t from a lack of effort on our part,” said Eaves. “It was a real battle going on. It was a 50-50 puck, and they got a hop and a bounce, and they went in to score. But to say that we weren’t battling for that puck wouldn’t be a fair assessment of that situation. . . . It’s not the start we wanted.”
“I think it’s obviously tough to give up a goal like that 10 seconds in,” Wisconsin junior captain Blake Geoffrion said.
The Badgers were never able to recover from the Gophers’ quick strike.
Stoa again found the net midway through the first period, taking a pass from teammate Jay Barriball and backhanding it past UW goaltender Shane Connelly to give Minnesota a 2-0 advantage.
“He’s a big, strong, talented, young forward, and he can be a force to be reckoned with,” Eaves said of Stoa.
Neither of the WCHA rivals were able to put the puck in the net for the majority of the second period, although the Badgers had a handful of missed opportunities. It would be Minnesota’s sophomore winger Mike Hoffel, however, that pounded the final nail into Wisconsin’s coffin with a goal just a minute-and-a-half before the second intermission.
“We had moments when I thought we were going to break through and really capitalize and do something special,” Eaves said. “That third goal at the end of the [second] period kind of took some wind out of our sail.”
UW freshman Matt Thurber netted his first career goal at the collegiate level when he beat Minnesota netminder Alex Kangas to cut the deficit to 3-1 early in the third period. But just three minutes later, the Gophers’ Tony Lucia — son of head coach Don Lucia — put his team back up 4-1, silencing the Badgers and the crowd of 15,237.
Wisconsin’s fourth line of Podge Turnbull, Tom Gorowsky and Andy Bohmbach provided a small lift for the Badgers both Friday and Saturday, as the trio produced a goal in each game — both off the stick of Turnbull.
Saturday, Turnbull fired a shot on net as he spun around at the blue line. The puck appeared to have been deflected by Gorowsky — who assisted on a goal the night before — but Turnbull was credited with the score, cutting it to a 4-2 game.
“I think all weekend, we were able to put them out there and they did give us a spark,” Eaves said of the fourth line. “They gave us scoring chances, gave us hits, gave us energy and chipped in a goal. That’s a bonus for us.”
A fight midway through the third was the only thing the Badger fans had to cheer for late in Saturday’s game. Ben Grotting got the best of Minnesota’s Patrick White, landing several punches against the sophomore forward. He was hit with a game disqualification and will serve a suspension.
Friday was a different story for both teams, but the final score of the 2-2 tie meant the same thing: UW was still without a win.
Turnbull put the Badgers up 8:31 into the first period when he took a centering pass from Gorowsky, who found the streaking Turnbull in front of the Minnesota net.
“They showed good chemistry and something they can build on,” Eaves said.
UW built on its lead in the second frame when sophomore defenseman Brendan Smith fired a shot from the point. Michael Davies and Jamie McBain were credited with assists on Smith’s power-play goal, his second goal of the season.
Stoa cut the lead in half with five minutes to play in the second when he was able to beat Connelly on a deflection, but Wisconsin headed into the third period with a 2-1 advantage.
“They were doing a good job of tipping the pucks,” said Connelly, who made 34 saves Friday. “The hockey gods aren’t making it easy for us to get our first win.”
For the third time in five games, however, the Badgers couldn’t hold a third-period lead. Sam Lofquist, a Somerset, Wis. native, scored the equalizer with under five minutes to play in the third. After his tying goal, Lofquist made a reference to his jersey and put his hand to his ear to listen to the Kohl Center crowd — similar to what Madison native and former Gopher Phil Kessel did two years ago.
“People can celebrate however they want,” Connelly said. “I didn’t see it, and it really doesn’t affect anyone in that locker room. … We’ve had to deal with that before with the Kessel situation.”
Neither team scored in the overtime period — Wisconsin managed just one shot on net — but the Badgers picked up their first point of the year with the tie.
“You look at the outcome today, the 2-1 lead, and we get out of there with a tie,” sophomore defenseman and assistant captain Ryan McDonagh said. “Sure, it’s not a win, but we get a point.”
After the weekend series, Eaves’ team sits at 0-5-1 and now heads to North Dakota to take on the Fighting Sioux. As that first win continues to evade their grasp, the Badgers know there is work to be done.
“Right now, because of our schedule and the opponents that we’re playing and some of our injuries that we’ve had, it seems like we’re biking uphill into the wind,” Eaves said.
“We’re without a win right now, so we’re still trying to figure things out for the better,” Gorowsky said. “But we’re not completely lost. It’s still hockey; it’s not that complicated.”