Wisconsin splits with UNO 4-5, 6-3
The start of the 2011 Wisconsin hockey season has taken some interesting twists and turns in the first month. They've been swept by Michigan Tech, a team that hasn't had home ice in the WCHA playoffs in seemingly forever, but swept powerhouse North Dakota the next weekend.
This weekends series against conference foe Nebraska-Omaha saw more twists and turns, especially in a wild opener on Friday night. The Badgers were able to open up a 3-0 lead in the first period, and were seemingly in control. However the loss of junior center Derek Lee to injury proved costly, and the Badgers would end up losing the game 5-4.
Wisconsin was able to bounce back on Saturday night behind a great effort to rally for two big points in the WCHA standings. Despite taking only 24 shots, the Badgers were able to find the twine six times en route to the 6-3 victory.
Friday night the Badgers would take an early lead just 46 seconds into the game when Lee unleashed a howitzer to beat UNO freshman net-minder Ryan Massa. Lee skated through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone virtually unimpeded before ripping his shot through a screen of UNO defensemen into the net.
However on his next shift, which happened to be on the penalty kill, Lee was cut with a skate and did not return. That injury proved costly, as Lee is one of the few upper classmen on the roster, and plays in every on-ice situation.
The Badgers quickly added to their lead early in the first on one of the more amazing goals you'll ever see. Sophomore center Mark Zengerle was coming down the left side boards on his off hand and in one motion did a spin-o-rama towards the boards and flicked a pass on his backhand to a streaking Tyler Barnes who was able to tap the puck in the net for the 2-0 lead.
A couple minutes later Michael Mersch would extend the Wisconsin lead to 3-0, and they were seemingly in cruise control.
However, with a few minutes remaining in the period, Wisconsin net-minder Landon Peterson misplayed a puck behind his net giving Wisconsin native Brent Gwidt a gift, and the easiest goal he'll ever score. The score would remain 3-1 going into the first intermission.
Nebraska-Omaha would tack on two more goals, a second period tally from Terry Bradhurst and an early third period goal by Matt White to tie it at three apiece.
"I think the turning point was when we lost Derek Lee, we lose a junior, center iceman, it was on a power play and penalty killing," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted after the Friday contest. "In the second period we are trying to find the right mix and who can play with who and it took us out of our rhythm a little bit."
The Badgers would bounce back in the third period and take a 4-3 lead on a goal by Barnes. However that lead was short lived, as a few minutes later UNO would net their third power play goal when Broadhurst found the twine for the second time.
Both teams had multiple chances in the third period to no avail. The game seemed destined for overtime until things changed with just under a minute to play. Wisconsin was whistled for a penalty just moments after one of their own players was hauled down with no call. Staying hot on the man advantage, UNO forward Alex Hudson was able to one-time a Broadhurst pass past Peterson for the game winner with only 20 seconds remaining in the third period.
Despite a solid effort from his group, some costly mistakes and details here and there were the difference in the loss.
"Our details and our penalty killing were not as good as we needed them tonight," Eaves said. " But I liked our game overall. In the third period, we carried the play at times. We had chances, we were on our toes and playing well. The details let us down tonight."
Upset with the Friday result, Wisconsin came out flying on Saturday starting the game in a very similar fashion to the night before. Wisconsin jumped out to a three goal lead once again, with two goals from Zengerle and one from freshman Matt Paape.
Zengerle's first goal came short handed, 7:52 into the first period on an assist from Barnes. Not known for their work on the penalty kill, a great effort from Barnes set up an easy tap goal in for Zengerle.
"We’re still doing rehearsals on who can kill penalties for us. We lose Derek Lee and that put a big hole there," Eaves noted after the Saturday contest. "I thought Mr. Zengerle and Mr. Barnes above and beyond scoring the short-handed goal did a very nice job of showing that they understood what the scheme was when they were killing penalties."
Paape's goal was his first as a Badger, and came in a big win.
"We were working it down low sending it out to Keegan (Meuer) it kind of went off his skate and I was hanging out in the high slot. I took a shot it got blocked, I took the rebound and it ended up in the back of the net," Paape noted after the game. "It’s just nice to get the first one off your back."
In an eerily similar fashion to Friday, with a 3-0 lead Wisconsin coughed up the puck for an easy tap in for UNO. Saturday starter Joel Rumpel misplayed the puck and Maverick forward Terry Broadhurst was able to bury his third goal of the weekend.
Unlike Friday night, this time the Badgers were the ones able to carry the momentum into the intermission. Filling in for an injured Jake McCabe on the powerplay, sophomore defenseman Frankie Simonelli put the Badgers up 4-1 on the man advantage when he found a beautiful pass from Zengerle on his stick on the back door where he was able to deposit it in the empty net.
Wisconsin would extend their lead in the second period on a goal by Ryan Little, who is playing through a hand injury, although no one would know it by his production of late. Little, known as a defensive forward and outstanding penalty killer has recorded five points in three games since re-injuring his hand.
With Dean Blais behind the bench, you know Nebraska-Omaha is never going to give up, and Saturday was no exception. The Mavericks were able to bury two third period power play goals to pull them within two goals of the Badgers.
An empty net goal by sophomore Jefferson Dahl sealed the 6-3 victory for Wisconsin.
Despite giving up a couple of goals on the power play, Wisconsin took another step in the right direction on Saturday. Badger defenseman Frankie Simonelli talked about cleaning up the details after the game.
"The mindset going into tonight’s game was that we definitely wanted to jump out and have the same start as we did last night, which we did," Simonelli noted. "We sharpened up our penalty kill a little bit and cracked down on the details and had more success tonight."
Wisconsin will have to have another great week of practice before they go back on the road. Next weekend they will travel up to St. Cloud to take on the Huskies who split with North Dakota in Grand Forks.