The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team (4-4-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) has been off to a great start in the 2018-19 campaign but was left searching for answers against No. 14 North Dakota (4-2-1, 0-0-0-0 NCHC) this past weekend. The No. 16 Badgers fell to the Fighting Hawks in both games of their doubleheader, getting shut out 5–0 Friday and falling 3–2 in an overtime showdown Saturday night.
In the series opener, North Dakota was getting everything they wanted and more, jumping out to an early 1–0 lead on a shot from senior forward Rhett Gardner in just the third minute.
Wisconsin closed out the first period nicely, outshooting North Dakota eight to seven. But while Wisconsin was taking shots, the Fighting Hawks were taking open shots. There was no hope for Wisconsin goalkeeper Jack Berry, who gave up another goal to round out the first period, eventually allowing another two in the second period before being pulled.
The fault shouldn’t fall solely on Berry, who finished with 11 saves — rather, this was a collective flop from a young Badger defense that has played well as of late. In both games, they simply gave up too many open looks.
When asked by University of Wisconsin Athletics about pulling Berry, Head Coach Tony Granato expressed the same view.
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“We just needed to get him out of there,” Granato said. “The fourth goal obviously wasn’t his fault, so we didn’t want to pull him after that and make it seem like we were blaming him. We waited a couple whistles and wanted to get Daniel [Lebedeff] in there to get some action and get him ready for tomorrow.”
The game was pretty much settled by the time Lebedeff entered the game, with Wisconsin trailing 4–0, but North Dakota’s Gardner tacked on one last goal to complete a hat trick and stretch the Fighting Hawk lead to five.
Even though Friday night’s opener wasn’t competitive, the series heated up in game two, as Saturday’s entertaining matchup came down to the final seconds of overtime.
The Badgers came out firing, as senior Will Johnson netted a crafty pass from senior Seamus Malone within the game’s opening five minutes to give UW a 1–0 lead. The rest of the first period went back-and-forth, with no team earning a clear edge, but the one standout was the absolute wizardry of UW freshman goalkeeper Lebedeff. He finished the game with 30 saves, the highest from a Badger goalie this season, and a .914 save percentage, while making a number of game-changing plays.
But it just wasn’t quite enough to keep the lead, as North Dakota got a huge goal in the opening minute of the second period to knot things up at 1–1. The tug-of-war continued into the third, where UW sophomore Tarek Baker tipped in a shot from K’Andre Miller to put the Badgers up 2–1 before North Dakota’s Nick Jones quickly answered to make it 2–2.
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The frustration of the Badgers was obvious, and at the end of the third period, that frustration lead to a five-on-three power play for the Fighting Hawks. Those penalties carried over into OT, and North Dakota took advantage. In the final seconds of the power play, the Fighting Hawks capitalized and got a game-winner out of Jacob Bernard-Docker.
In the end, the Badgers couldn’t take an important series on the road against a tough team, but they should not hang their heads. Saturday night’s overtime thriller proved that Wisconsin belongs in the conversation with NCAA hockey’s elite
The men’s hockey team will be in action again Nov. 9 against No. 8 Minnesota in the first of a two-game set against their Border Battle rival. The series opener can be seen on FOX Sports Wisconsin and heard on 1310 WIBA radio at 7 p.m.