In its series split against Ohio State, the No. 9 Wisconsin men’s hockey team found steady improvement during the weekend despite falling 3-1 in game two after a 5-3 victory the night before.
Saturday night’s matchup was a tale of offensive dominance by the Badgers that was only to be outmatched by a hot goaltender in the Buckeyes’ freshman Christian Frey. UW (14-7-1, 5-3-0 Big Ten) outshot OSU (12-9-1, 2-5-1) 37 to 22 in the final game of the first-ever series between the two programs, but came up short of avoiding just its second defeat in its last 12 games.
“We told our guys they did a good job in many areas. We just ran into a hot goaltender and that happens in this sport,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “We played really good. I’ve got no qualms at all other than we didn’t find another way to get the puck in the net.”
Frey recorded 36 saves Saturday night, including dominant performance by UW to open the game with 17 shots compared to OSU’s five. The Badgers entered the final period of play down 2-1 after the Buckeyes responded to a Badger goal off the stick of Mark Zengerle with back-to-back scores three minutes and 25 seconds apart in the second period. In front of a blaring Kohl Center crowd of 15,021 fans, the most the team has drawn since 2010, the Badgers pounded puck after puck at Frey, only to come up empty handed.
The Buckeyes made it a two-goal lead with an empty netter to seal in their victory with 12 seconds remaining in the game.
“The chances were there. It’s not one of those games where you kind of lost the game without having any opportunities,” senior forward Mark Zengerle said. “They were all over the place and that’s part of sports. You don’t always get all of the bounces.”
Perhaps the best opportunity for UW in the third period came from Zengerle’s line mate, senior forward Tyler Barnes. Getting open on the left side of the ice, UW found Barnes but Frey was able to adjust in time to block the shot and eventually cover up the puck that lingered in front of the goal line as the Badgers attack through themselves hoping to knock the puck past.
Despite coming up short on the attack, Wisconsin saw a drastic improvement in its penalty kill Saturday.
Coming into the series, UW knew it would be challenged when it took a penalty going against the then-ninth-best power play team in OSU. Friday night the Buckeyes found their first two goals on scores with the man-advantage of the sticks of junior forward Ryan Dzingel and freshman forward Nick Schilkey. OSU finished game one two-for-six on the power play and entered game two of the series having scored a goal with the man-advantage in seven of its last nine games.
Saturday night was a different story for the Badger special teams, as they shut out the Buckeyes with the man-advantage on five power play opportunities. UW junior goaltender Joel Rumpel made six saves during the Badger penalty kill.
“Penalty killing was excellent,” Eaves said, also noting the improvements he saw on the power play that saw Frey as its only problem. “Power play created more chances than we did last night. Although, we created several last night. That little touch of finishing wasn’t there for us. So that was a challenge all night, whether that was us with our sights being off or that the young goalie made some big saves.”
Wisconsin went one-for-seven in the series on the power play, recording 10 shots with the man-advantage. The lone goal came from junior forward Joseph LaBate with under two minutes to play Friday night to give UW its fifth and final goal.
Though faced with a loss to end its 12-game home stand that began back Dec. 6, the Badgers and their coach see the growth in their game and are looking ahead to their upcoming series on the road to Michigan, not concerned with the final score of Saturday’s game.
“I feel like we had a good effort as a team. We just couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net. Overall I thought we played alright, so I don’t think it was a loss,” senior forward Sean Little said Saturday. “I think we got better as a team tonight and that’s all we can ask for.”