Michael Mersch netted a late third period goal to help the Badgers earn a tie vs UMD. - Photo Credit: Larry Radloff
Behind third period goals from Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch, Wisconsin was able to earn a hard fought tie on the road Saturday night vs 14th ranked Minnesota-Duluth.
Considering Wisconsin hadn't played a great third period all season, a two goal deficit to start the final stanza Saturday night wasn't exactly what the Badgers were hoping for.
On a night where UMD celebrated their 1992-93 team that captured a MacNaughton Cup championship, the Badgers were able to bounce back late to spoil the party.
Third period goals from juniors Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch evened things up for the Badgers, who were able to grab an extra point and walk out of Duluth with three hard fought WCHA points.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves talked about his club playing their best when they needed to.
"It was the best time that we could have picked to have our best third period," Eaves said after the game.
"Maybe the fact that we were behind kicked us into gear."
Minnesota-Duluth opened the scoring in the first period when freshman Tony Cameranesi picked up a deflection out front and was able to rip it past a screened Joel Rumpel to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the weekend.
UMD stretched their lead to two in the second period on a beautiful shot from Keegan Flaherty. The senior carried the puck into the zone on a two on one and beat Rumpel to extend the Bulldogs lead to 2-0.
Despite the two goals against, Wisconsin sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel was one of the Badger's best players the entire weekend.
Rumpel was forced to work much harder on Saturday night, and helped his club stay in the game early.
"He gave us a chance to get our feet underneath us," Eaves said. "That's what you need your goaltender to do in some games, and he did that for us tonight."
Rumpel finished the night with 35 saves, and had to stop double digit shots in each period.
Last season the Badgers were 0-9 in games that they trailed after two periods. It's not hard to understand why many UW fans might not have had a lot of confidence in the outcome.
The 20 guys in Wisconsin's locker room had other ideas.
Zengerle would pull the Badgers within one when he found himself all alone out front with the puck on his stick. The junior sniper did what he does best, burying the puck over the shoulder of UMD freshman netminder Matt McNeely.
The goal seemed to energize the Badgers, who went on to play their best third period of the season.
Mersch was able to tie things up for Wisconsin with just 5:13 to play in the third period. Working on the half-wall, Mersch faught free and took the puck to the center off the ice where he was able to snap one over the blocker of McNeely.
"I was walking out of the corner. You try to read their defense as much as you can. We knew we needed to get more shots so I just let one rip" Mersch said after the game.
"Luckily there were some screens in front of the net and it went in."
The goal was huge for a Badger club that needed it's veteran leaders to step up when it mattered. Mersch noted that guys like Zengerle and himself expect to play well in key situations.
"Our team is a little bit older now. I've been here for three years and I expect that out of myself."
The series between the Badgers and the Bulldogs was the final one that they will play as members of the WCHA. Next season the Badgers will join the Big Ten Hockey Conference, while UMD goes to the new NCHC.
Eaves mentioned after the game that he'd like to work something out in the future to schedule the Bulldogs.
"I don't think we're done with this rivalry. We're not going to see them as often, and we don't have them on our schedule right now." Eaves said. "I have pretty confident feelings that we'll get them in the intermediate future."
While it wasn't the sweep they were hoping for, this Badger club has to feel good heading into next weekend's series vs Colorado College at the Kohl Center.
Senior alternate captain Ryan Little talked about where the Badgers go from here.
"It gives us a little confidence. We know that when things aren't going our way-we face a little adversity-we have the character in that room and the work ethic to go out there and turn things around."
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)