Although the Wisconsin men’s hockey team struggled to find the back of the net in a home series where it was swept by St. Cloud State, the Badgers showed a new liberty to shoot the puck in the two losses.
After being swept on the road at North Dakota last weekend, head coach Mike Eaves stressed the need for his players to take more shots, and the Badgers clearly listened to his advice in a disappointing 5-1 defeat Monday and a much closer 2-1 loss in game two.
Firing off a season-high 74 shots on the weekend, Wisconsin was only able to find the back of the net twice, but Eaves remains confident that the approach will lead to victories in the long run.
“Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat to the young goaltender, and we got some shots that we wanted to, so we’ll continue to pound that drum,” Eaves said. “History tells us the more shots and pucks and bodies you get in net, good things will happen for you eventually.”
A major reason the shots continued to stay in front of the goal line was the outstanding play of St. Cloud goaltender Mike Lee. A junior, who had only made six starts this season coming into the weekend, was at the top of his game in Madison, consistently rejecting well-placed shots and solid rebound attempts.
In game two, the Badgers emerged from the locker room looking strong in the first period and launched eight shots in the first 10 minutes of the game and got several quality looks at the net. After scoring the game’s first goal and taking a 1-0 lead early in the second period, it appeared that Eaves’ advice was finally leading to goals.
However, as defenseman Frankie Simonelli noted, the St. Cloud goalkeeper put an end to any offensive rhythm Wisconsin found.
“We ran into a hot goalie, and it seemed to be the difference-maker tonight,” Simonelli said.
With just 39 total shots in its road trip to North Dakota the previous weekend – three less than the 42 it put up against St. Cloud Saturday – Wisconsin’s aggressiveness with the puck created a continuous stream of scoring opportunities.
Even in an otherwise disheartening 5-1 loss Friday, the Badgers managed to outshoot the Huskies by eight shots, but Eaves saw his team’s energy decline after an impressive opening to the game.
“We started it pretty well, the shots were 7-2, I thought we had some good chances,” Eaves said. “Mr. Lee shut the door, and when we didn’t get rewarded for our efforts, we kind of lost our energy.”
Schultz, Zengerle share rare weekend absent from score sheet
With only two goals in the series, much of the lack of scoring against St. Cloud could be attributed to the lack of production from the team’s two biggest stars in Justin Schultz and Mark Zengerle.
Zengerle, a sophomore center who holds the slightest grip on his title as the team’s point leader with 39, finished the weekend without a goal or an assist over the two games. Lee and the rest of the St. Cloud defense also contained Schultz, a junior defenseman, who sits just behind Zengerle with 38 points.
Although their contributions didn’t jump off the stat sheet, Eaves didn’t feel like his two primary offensive producers suffered from a lack of scoring opportunities.
“If you take a look at the shots, they had a lot of shots, they were involved in a lot of chances, they just didn’t get on the score sheet,” Eaves said. “If we were to take a look at this and we didn’t see they had shots, or we look at the film and we see they don’t have scoring chances, then we could say what’s going on.”
Although frustrated by being held scoreless in the series where the Badgers were hoping to get their season back on track after dropping two games to UND, Zengerle believes he can benefit from a bye week where UW will try to move on from its four straight losses.
“We’re just going to have to get past it and get back to practice and that’s where you kind of regain your confidence,” Zengerle said. “So I guess you do go back to the drawing board a little bit, but maybe it’s a good thing that we have a week off.”