The Wisconsin men's hockey team has seemingly been living Murphy's law of "If anything can go wrong, it will" lately. Coming into the weekend on a 3 game losing streak, an already young team got even younger as the injury bug continued to strike.
Already missing junior center Derek Lee and freshman defenseman Jake McCabe to hand injuries, junior Ryan Little was lost for 3-6 weeks when he elected for hand surgery to fix a nagging issue that was re-aggravated a little over a month ago. Ryan's younger brother Sean, who was expected to help fill his brothers shoes was lost for the weekend when he suffered a leg injury on Friday.
Add in sophomore Keegan Meuer's five minute major and subsequent ejection on Friday night and Tyler Lapic being too ill to suit up in the series opener, and you've got yourself one hell of a challenge.
Somehow though all of that, the youngest team in the WCHA was able to elevate their play and record 12 goals in a weekend sweep of non-conference foe Mercyhurst.
Without juniors Lee and Little available for the weekend, the Badger coaching staff was forced to put a lineup of forwards on the ice consisting of only freshmen and sophomores. For most clubs, that's a recipe for disaster.
"That's a challenge, when you put young people in a position where they haven't had a lot of reps at and hope that they can learn on the fly and do some good things," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves noted.
What Eaves was alluding to was playing players in specialty situations that they haven't yet done at this level. One of those players that stepped up into an elevated role was sophomore forward Michael Mersch who notched two points on one five minute penalty kill in the series opener.
"The thing that Michael has is that he has a long reach, he's willing to block shot and he has a level of intelligence about how to kill a penalty," Eaves said after Friday night's game. "We're trying to get that to grow so he's going to get more auditions that's for sure."
One of the unsung hero's on the squad this season has been sophomore Jefferson Dahl who has been as consistent of a two way forward as anyone else on the roster. Friday night Dahl notched his second goal of the season and provided energy that was lacking from some coming off the the holiday.
"The one guy that played well for the whole 60 minutes is a guy that had a big part in that was JD, Dahl," Eaves said. "Jefferson Dahl was really good the whole game and we can't say that about a lot of our guys."
One of the storylines throughout the season has been the point streak of sophomore Mark Zengerle. The Rochester, NY native extended that streak over the weekend to 15 games, which is the longest since Chris Tancill recorded points in 15 straight in 1990.
Zengerle was a man on a mission over the weekend, notching eight points in the series which drove his season total to 25, which is tied for first in the country with Minnesota forward Nick Bjugstad and teammate Justin Schultz. Schultz was no pushover himself this weekend, as the junior blue-liner finished the weekend with seven points of his own.
Zengerle and Schultz have been shouldering much of the load for the Badgers lately which isn't something that has gone unnoticed from the coaching staff.
"There’s no question, with his (Schultz) ability, just at the right time, to make a play offensively or defensively, to settle us down," Eaves noted about his junior alternate captain. "On the other side with a forward you’d have to look to Mark Zengerle and his ability this weekend to make plays with poise and confidence. Those two young guys are young men that are shouldering more responsibility for us."
Notes from the weekend
- Sophomore Mark Zengerle extended his consecutive game point streak to 15 games.
- Zengerle and Justin Schultz are tied for first in the country in scoring with 25 points each. Nick Bjugstad from Minnesota also has 25 points.
- Sophomore Sean Little was injured on Friday and didn't return to action this weekend. Eaves called it a leg injury and a "soft tissue" injury. It sounds like he may be able to play in two weeks against UMD. The Badgers are on a bye next weekend.
- Ryan Little will have surgery today (Monday) on his broken hand and will miss the next 3-6 weeks.
- Eric Springer recorded his second career goal over the weekend.
- Freshmen goaltenders Joel Rumpel and Ladon Peterson each started one night this weekend. Rumpel stopped 21 of 23 on Friday and Peterson stopped 25 of 27 on Saturday.
- Freshman Tyler Lapic missed Friday's game due to illness but was in the lineup on Saturday for his second career game.
- Gavin Hartzog who started his career at Wisconsin playing forward but was moved back to defense a few weeks ago suited up Friday at forward due to the injuries/illnesses.
- Walk-on junior goaltender Mitch Thompson made his first career appearance on Friday night when he came in late in the game. He stopped all three shots he faced.
Wisconsin Weekend Player Points (G-A-Pts)
Mark Zengerle 1-7-8
Justin Schultz 3-4-7
Tyler Barnes 1-3-4
Michael Mersch 2-2-4
Eric Springer 1-2-3
Frankie Simonelli 1-1-2
Jefferson Dahl 1-1-2
Joseph LaBate 1-1-2
Keegan Meuer 0-1-1
Brendan Woods 1-0-1
WCHA Movers and Shakers
Alaska-Anchorage @ Minnesota State: Anchorage 3 points
Colorado College @ North Dakota: North Dakota Sweep
St. Cloud State @ Nebraska-Omaha: Omaha 3 points
Minnesota @ Michigan State: Minnesota loss, tie
Michigan Tech @ St. Lawrence: Tech loss, win
Princeton @ Denver: Denver win
Miami @ Denver: Denver loss
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