In its series split with Ohio State, the No. 8 Wisconsin men’s hockey team earned its first road victory since late November with a 4-2 win Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.
“At this time of the year it almost seems like every game is the biggest game of the year. And literally this was for us,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “To build momentum to stay in the race … this was a pivotal game.”
The Badgers (17-9-2, 8-5-1-0 Big Ten with 25 points) stormed the ice at Value City Arena Saturday looking to avenge a 2-1 loss Friday to the Buckeyes (15-10-3, 5-6-3-2 with 20 points).
Despite struggling to find an offensive rhythm in first shifts of play, UW earned itself an early 2-0 lead with back-to-back goals midway through the first period. Redshirt freshman winger Morgan Zulinick netted a power play goal, beating the Buckeyes’ freshman goaltender Christian Frey (24 saves) at the 9:44 mark. It was Zulinick’s third goal of the season and first power-play tally as a Badger.
Then two minutes and six seconds later senior center Mark Zengerle made it a two-goal lead off a pass from freshman Grant Besse.
“We got the two nothing lead and that was the difference in the game,” Eaves said. “This young goalie covers the lower part of the net really well and we got a couple of pucks elevated on him and were able to beat him there in the first period.”
In a quick two-goal deficit, Ohio State battled back, trying to defend its five-game winning streak. With a goal from freshman forward Nick Schilkey with more than seven minutes to play in the second period, the Buckeyes cut Wisconsin’s lead in half.
However, Zengerle would not be outdone by the Buckeyes and put his second goal of the game away one minute and two seconds into the final period of play. Although Zengerle’s career at Wisconsin has seen him contribute more often from a playmaker role, as he has piled up 112 career assists, he stepped into a different scoring role Saturday night and tied his career-high for goals in a game with his two scores.
“He’s been shooting the puck more and tonight he was rewarded. He hit the back of the net a few times,” Eaves said about Zengerle. “I think he has built confidence in his shot. I’m glad to see him get reward because that in and of itself will encourage him to keep shooting the puck.”
But the game was far from over after Zengerle put the Badgers up 3-1. Just 55 seconds later, junior forward and De Pere, Wis., native Max McCormick answered Zengerle’s goal off a three-on-two Buckeyes’ to make it a 3-2 game.
A battle until the end, junior goaltender Joel Rumpel and the Badgers’ defense fought off attacks by the Buckeyes until sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles sealed in UW’s victory with an empty netter with two seconds remaining in the game. Rumpel recorded 28 saves on the night, five coming off the four power play opportunities for the Buckeyes.
On the weekend the Badgers’ penalty kill excelled, shutting down the Buckeyes’ top-rated power play in the Big Ten on all eight opportunities with the man-advantage during the series. When OSU came to the Kohl Center just three-weekends prior — resulting in another series split — they broke down the Badgers’ defense with two power play goals in game one.
“We had trouble with [Ohio State] in the Kohl Center on their power play so we focused on that a lot during practice this week,” Rumpel said. “Our guys do such a good job of getting in lanes and blocking shots and letting me see the puck … It’s a team effort out there and we’re doing really well.”
Friday night was again a tale of success from scoring first as Ohio State took control in the first period of play and sent UW to the locker room during the first intermission down two goals. Sophomore forward and Middleton, Wis. native Tyler Lundey snuck one past Rumpel (28 saves Friday) just two minutes and eight seconds into play, followed by a goal from junior forward Derek Angeli with less than six minutes to go in the opening period. The Buckeyes out shot UW 14-6 in the first period.
“We knew what was coming, we knew what we had to do, we prepared properly all week for it and we talked about the first 10 minutes there getting pucks in and out and we had a few turnovers that led to goals,” Zengerle said. “You’re down early 2-0 it’s hard to come back. We had some chances but we didn’t generate enough.”
Wisconsin worked to manufacture a comeback, and made leeway with a goal from senior forward Michael Mersch to open the third period, but despite putting 13 shots on net in the final period, UW couldn’t again find a way past Frey, who totaled 29 saves Friday night.
Moving forward Wisconsin sits in second place in the Big Ten with their 25 points, seven behind first place Minnesota. The Badgers will return home for their final regular season home series against Michigan State this coming weekend before hitting the road for their final two series of Big Ten play at Penn State and Michigan State.