After a weekend split with the St. Cloud State Huskies, in which two seemingly different versions of the Wisconsin men’s hockey team appeared, head coach Mike Eaves seemed happy with the outcome of the series. As a result, Eaves will look to continue Saturday’s high-octane play in the weeks ahead.
In the series opener Friday night, the Badgers scored just one goal on 38 shots, but Saturday they responded by scoring seven goals on 50 shots.
“The puck didn’t go in [on Friday],” Eaves said. “We had as many [scoring] chances Friday as we did Saturday.”
The single goal performance Friday was atypical for the Badgers. UW is first in the WCHA and second in the nation in scoring offense, averaging nearly four goals per game. The Badgers trail only Yale in shots on goal per game, tallying just over 37.
However, against St. Cloud in Saturday’s game, UW’s offense rebounded well despite a second-period injury to senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion. The injury cut short the Tennessee native’s final regular season home game.
The Badgers will need to keep up Saturday’s offensive intensity if Geoffrion’s concussion keeps him out of the upcoming series. Geoffrion suffered a vicious open ice hit in Saturday’s game and did not return.
According to Eaves, Geoffrion would not practice Monday, but is recovering well and waiting for his headaches to cease before returning.
One of UW’s best offensive weapons, any extended loss of Geoffrion could have a major impact on the Badgers. Geoffrion leads the nation in power play goals and the WCHA in both goals and points in conference play.
Geoffrion is also among the finalists for the Hobey Baker trophy, the most prestigious individual honor in college hockey, awarded annually to the nation’s best player.
Yet, after Geoffrion’s injury on Saturday, the Badgers scored six goals, showing they can still perform well without one of their best offensive players.
“They raised their level of play at a time when it was needed,” Eaves said about the team’s response.
Despite the concussion, Eaves believes Geoffrion will be ready for this weekend’s matchup in Houghton, Mich., against Michigan Tech.
Room for Improvement
Although Eaves is confident in his pair of goaltenders, he would like to see some improvement after junior Scott Gudmandson’s lackluster performance against St. Cloud.
“It’s not where I hoped it would be,” Eaves said of the goaltender’s play. “I know the potential and we have seen how well they can play.”
Eaves believes both goalies can improve their play down the stretch.
Gudmandson allowed nine goals on 47 shots over the weekend and declined to speak with reporters after Saturday’s game. Eaves described Gudmandson’s performance as a “funky night.”
Gudmandson ranks 11th in the WCHA in save percentage. Brett Bennett, UW’s other junior goaltender ranks 12th. The top netminders at Denver, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota all rank ahead of both Bennett and Gudmandson in save percentage.
“We had hoped going down the stretch that we would find one man who was going real strong,” Eaves said of his goaltenders. “Maybe we’re a two-goalie team.”
Eaves plans to give Gudmandson and Bennett starts this weekend. If Friday’s goalie performs very well, however, Eaves said he will consider giving him the start Saturday as well to find his starter for the stretch run.
After a tough No. 3 versus No. 4 matchup this past weekend, the Badgers will face much weaker competition this Friday and Saturday. Wisconsin will be looking for a pair of important road wins against a different breed of Huskies, the last-place Huskies of Michigan Tech.
“We need points, and we’ll have to be ready to play,” Eaves said about the upcoming series.
Eaves believes the Badgers will bring Saturday’s offensive outburst with them to Houghton, but expects a tough series from the Huskies.
Wisconsin needs merely one point to secure home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. But three points this weekend would move them ahead of St. Cloud into second place in the conference, with the Huskies idle on the season’s second-to-last weekend.