[media-credit name="Kirby Wright " align="alignleft" width="336"]
[/media-credit]The Wisconsin men’s hockey team possessed a grand opportunity Saturday night to sweep Ohio State and finish a 12-game homestand with only one loss, but the Badgers ran into a brick wall in the form of Buckeye goaltender Christian Frey. In front of a near sellout and whiteout crowd of 15,021 fans, the Badgers peppered Frey with 37 shots, but could not find an answer to him, as he stopped 36 to lead the Buckeyes to a 3-1 triumph and a series split.
According to Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves in the postgame press conference, the Badgers (14-7-1 overall, 5-3-0-0 Big Ten) did all they could to win the game and put together a nearly complete performance.
“We played better tonight than we did last night,” Eaves said. “The thing that we said to our guys in there … they did a good job in many areas, we just ran into a hot goaltender and that happens in this sport.
“I’ve got no qualms at all other than we didn’t find another way to get the puck in the net.”
In the midst of a 1-1 game in the second period, Ohio State (12-9-1, 2-5-1-0) struck for the deciding goal with just under five minutes to go in the frame. After the Buckeyes’ initial shot from near the blue line was blocked down by the Wisconsin defense, the Buckeyes’ Nick Oddo found himself with the puck near the right side of the goal mouth and shoved it past Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel (19 saves).
But as was the case throughout the game, Wisconsin continued to create quality scoring chances even after Ohio State took the lead. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Frey continued to stop everything thrown at him and got some lucky bounces along the way.
Only a few minutes after Ohio State took the lead, Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle broke out of the zone and had a two-on-one breakaway. Instead of passing, Zengerle decided to shoot and rung the puck off the far post. The play reflected Wisconsin’s difficulties throughout the game: close but not close enough.
The rest of the second period remained scoreless and the third progressed with opportunities abound for the Badgers, yet none of the nine shots on target in the final period found twine. Eaves made one last ditch effort with one minute and 11 seconds to play in the game when he pulled Rumpel, but OSU’s Darik Angeli worked the puck of the zone and fired into the empty net, sending the crowd to their cars and ending any hope of a comeback.
Wisconsin’s lone goal came from Zengerle to open the scoring at the 10:03 mark of the second period. Ohio State answered just 98 seconds later with a score from Nick Schilkey, with the game-winner less than four minutes after that.
But despite a disappointing loss, the performance from his players left Eaves proud in the wake of defeat.
“That’s the one thing about being a competitive athlete — they don’t want to hear the words that we were saying as a coaching staff, but they are the truth. And we hope that at some point before they leave that they recognize how well they played,” Eaves said.
“There’s no time to sit there and dwell on the loss tonight,” Wisconsin defenseman Frankie Simonelli, who had the primary assist on the lone tally, said. “We could have used the points for the standings and the rankings, but we got to move forward and that starts Monday.”
Badgers blitz Buckeyes 5-3 Friday night
Friday night at the Kohl Center was a near carbon copy of Saturday’s game, that is until the concluding minutes of the second period. Once again, the Badgers trailed Ohio State 2-1, but a little more than four minutes after falling behind, they stormed back for four goals over the 25 minutes in a decisive 5-3 victory.
Two goals late in the second period and a tally right out of the gate in the third provided enough to secure the win for the Badgers, who improved to 10-1-0 during the homestand and 13-1-1 overall at the Kohl Center this season.
Wisconsin took the early lead in the game after defensemen Jake McCabe wristed a shot from the right circle that squeaked its way past OSU goaltender Matt Tompkins (24 saves) two minutes and 20 seconds into the first period.
Even though Badgers possessed the 1-0 advantage, Eaves said it was not until the middle portion of the second period that his team finally settled in and played to their capabilities after having a bye last weekend. In that time the Buckeyes battled back and took the 2-1 lead.
Both goals — one at the 14:42 mark of the first period and the other at 10:55 in the second — for the Buckeyes came on the power play against a Wisconsin penalty kill that yielded two goals on the first two chances.
But Wisconsin shored up the problems over the remainder of the game, which led to some momentum and eventually the game’s turning point.
“[Assistant coach Gary Shuchuk] got those young men in there and we made some adaptions, which is a sign of a good club when you can make changes on the fly during the course of a game and make it work for you. That’s an important element of a good team,” Eaves said.
That turning point came after Wisconsin penalty kill held Ohio State scoreless for the first time in the game in the latter stages of the second period. Following a dump into the Buckeyes’ zone as the penalty time expired, Zengerle worked the puck free behind the cage and dished a pass to Tyler Barnes, who one-timed the feed in the slot. Tompkins blocked away the initial chance, but Barnes crashed the net for the rebound and shoved it home with two minutes and 43 seconds to go in the frame for a 3-2 Wisconsin lead.
Then only 42 seconds into the third UW struck for the game-winning goal on a blast from Joe Faust.
Ohio State found the back of the net on the penalty kill with a little more than two minutes to go in the game, but Wisconsin answered right back 56 seconds later at 18:29 to provide the final margin of victory.
Wisconsin’s first line of Barnes, Zengerle and Morgan Zulinick, which notched seven points on the evening, was just too much to handle in the win.
“The biggest thing we did was win battles in the corner. And when we got the puck, we brought it to the net and we had guys at the net. We didn’t hesitate to make that extra pass,” Barnes, who had a goal and two assists, said. “Brought it to the net and we had some good bounces tonight.”
“They were good for us tonight,” Eaves said. “They need to be consistent with that. If they can do that, then they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Rumpel collected 23 saves in the win, his 11th of the year.