After a dominating performance in Friday’s game against Minnesota State, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team followed its 6-0 victory with a heartbreaking loss in game two Saturday. Freshman forward Craig Smith and junior defenseman Ryan McDonagh were called for major penalties in the third period, giving the Mavericks 10 minutes with the man advantage.
Minnesota State seized the opportunity and scored the game-winner to earn a series split.
“Both players felt terrible — I mean almost sick to their stomach — because they knew the impact that it had on the game,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “We learn our lesson and move forward.”
Coach Eaves and his players are disappointed with the relatively slow start and the way the series in Mankato ended, but there is no sense of panic in a group that is still finding its way early in the season.
“It has been disappointing to a degree,” he said. “Coming into a new season, you’ve got a lot of new players, you’re trying to find the chemistry and the identity of your group.”
The Badgers are still searching for that team identity, and while the weeks of practice allow this team to progress, Eaves knows the true maturation of his squad takes place on Friday and Saturday nights.
“It is in the game situations that you really forge your identity and find out who you are,” Eaves said. “We are in our infancy here, but we are moving in the right direction and that is what keeps us going.”
Earning a victory in Mankato was a step in the right direction for this team, and Eaves and his staff saw plenty of positives despite an unfortunate ending to what had the makings of a promising weekend.
“We played very well on Friday, and on Saturday, we hurt ourselves with the two errors in the game,” Eaves said. “But gosh, I watched that game and said, “Gees, we played pretty well.'”
It appears as though the Badgers are getting closer to the level Eaves expects on a nightly basis.
“In watching the games, we feel that we are on the cusp — we just need to continue to push forward with this group.”
One of the strong points of this team has been the offensive productivity of the Wisconsin defenseman. Former Badger defenseman Jamie McBain led the team in points last year, and now junior defenseman Brendan Smith is currently the point leader for UW. Eaves stressed the production from the blue line is no accident.
“It just speaks to our overall balance,” he said. “Our most talented guys are our defensemen, and we put them in positions where they can be successful by using the skills that they have.”
Eaves’ squad is beginning to gel and become familiar with one another, but it appears as though they will need to get used to playing in front of two goaltenders. Bret Bennett recorded a shutout in game one of last weekend’s series, but that did not stop Eaves from inserting Scott Gudmandson into the lineup for game two.
“[Gudmandson] played well the last week, and it was kind of a no-brainer,” Eaves said. “He did some good things and has earned the right to play.”