Following a sluggish first period, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team took over Sunday night at the Kohl Center and put up 51 shots-on-goal en route to a 5-0 shutout victory against Penn State.
The Senior Day battle found a fitting first goal from senior defenseman John Ramage, who launched a shot from just over the blue line, surpassing multiple PSU defensemen and goaltender PJ Musico on the way to the back of the net.
The goal – coming just 1:30 into the second period – gave the Badgers (14-10-0, 11-7-7 WCHA) a needed boost following a first period that saw just six shots on goal by both teams.
“We could have been better we could have been sharper … you always want more for yourself and the team,” Ramage said about the team’s play in the first period. “So I think that’s what we came out and did in the second and third period, we showed what we are capable of.”
While back-and-forth play dominated the first period, the Badgers were not without opportunities. After a slashing penalty on PSU’s senior forward Dominic Morrone, Wisconsin found itself fighting for the puck inside the crease. UW sophomore forward Brendan Woods managed to poke the puck in, but the goal was waved off as the referee indicated goaltender PJ Musico had already covered the puck.
The Nittany Lions (12-13-0) saw a near-goal of their own, but Badger goaltender Joel Rumpel managed to get across the net just in time to keep the puck from crossing the red line.
A holding call on PSU defenseman Connor Varley late in the first period put the Badgers on the power play heading into the second. Although unable to find the net, the momentum quickly gave way to Ramage’s goal.
The offensive persistence by Wisconsin continued throughout play. Wisconsin went on to average more than one shot per minute in the final 40 minutes of play, boasting 44 shots on net, with 22 in both the second and third period.
“We just talked about playing with tempo and pace,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “That was our focus and I don’t think it was desperate, it was wanting to play at a high tempo and pace.”
Though the Badgers hammered the Nittany Lions’ defense with shots, pucks were not dropping on UW’s side following their first goal. After a shot by junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli hit the left pipe, with a ring that echoed throughout the Kohl Center, freshman forward Nic Kerdiles failed to convert with a wide open shot inside the slot.
A Badger power play finally allowed UW its second goal of the night, as junior forward Michael Mersch knocked in his own rebound from the right side of the net as junior linemate Mark Zengerle fought for positioning in the slot, distracting the PSU defense.
A late-period penalty, this time on Wisconsin, allowed Penn State the man-advantage for 57 seconds heading into the final period. A second Badger penalty on Ramage gave the Nittany Lions a 5-on-3 advantage for 16 seconds. However, Rumpel and the UW penalty kill escaped untouched though both penalties.
The remainder of the third period showed PSU the competition they will soon face with the start of the Big Ten Conference in men’s hockey next season. With just less than 10 minutes remaining and UW still clinging on to a dangerous 2-0 lead, Kerdiles put the Badgers up with a commanding three-goal advantage when a shot bouncing off Musico fell right at the stick of Zengerle. Rapidly working the puck around the crease though junior forward Tyler Barnes, Kerdiles found himself with his sixth goal of the season.
Adding to the lead, Barnes found himself racing toward the net with the puck at his stick and no defenseman in sight after bolting from the penalty box from a roughing call. An easy right shoulder fake and backhand shot put the Badgers up 4-0 with less than five minutes to play.
The goal and assists on each of the three previous goals left Barnes pleased to see his opportunities finally showing up on the scoreboard.
“I’ve had opportunities this season I haven’t been able to close and that’s when I would really be nervous if I wasn’t getting opportunities,” Barnes said. “I just knew to keep working hard, to bear down and eventually they would start coming.”
Sophomore forward Brendan Woods made it a five-goal game just 1:34 for UW’s second power play goal of the night from a one-time shot Musico had no chance of stopping.
The dominant performance comes exactly one week following what Eaves called an “emotional energizer” beating then No. 2 Minnesota in the Hockey City Classic. Embracing the change of pace with the Sunday-Monday series and the upcoming series at the Coliseum, Eaves believes it is a good change of pace for his players.
“Right now to be honest … I don’t really mind the change,” Eaves said. “This little change in the schedule is a bit of jolt and I think it might be refreshing to do something different.”
Both teams will be back on the ice Monday night with game time set at 7:30 p.m.