What a crazy season this has been for the Badger men's hockey team. If you were looking to write a book, this would be a good team to follow, given their dramatic up's and down's to this point of the season.
The roller coaster ride continued on Friday night in Mankato, as Minnesota State was able to erase three Badger leads before finally succumbing to Wisconsin in overtime.
The win was huge for a Badger team who has been red hot lately, and hasn't lost since November 24th against this same Minnesota State squad.
"We've talked about writing that chapter of our book in terms of being able to finish (games)," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.
"I think if we want to be that team that we want to be at the end of the year, we have to find ways to do this."
Wisconsin was first on the board late in the opening period on a goal by defenseman Joe Faust. Senior center Derek Lee carried the puck down the right boards and left a spot pass for Faust in the slot to walk into, and the junior defenseman blasted it past Williams for the 1-0 lead. Joseph LaBate was also credited with an assist on the play.
Minnesota State would bounce right back with a tally of their own before the end of the period. With a Badger in the penalty box, Mavericks' defenseman Zach Palmquist sent a feed down low to Matt Leitner who was able to re-direct the puck past Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson to tie things up at one.
The second period was all Wisconsin, as they out-everythinged Minnesota State the entire period. It looked like it may be all for naught, until a late line rush from Wisconsin's "grind line."
UW's Sean Little sent a lead feed for Jefferson Dahl who carried the puck into the Mavericks' offensive zone. Dahl then chipped a pass ahead to Ryan Little who was streaking into the zone, and Little did the rest, beating Williams, and giving the Badgers a 2-1 advantage heading into the second intermission.
Minnesota State would bounce back in the third period on a four-on-four goal. Mav's defenseman Tyler Elbrecht picked up a loose puck in the Wisconsin offensive zone, and was able to use a UW defender as a screen as he whistled a wrist-shot past Peterson to tie the game at two.
Things got interesting late in the third period after a scrum out in front of the Minnesota State net. A pile of bodies ended up on top of MSU goaltender Stephon Williams, but in a rare move, Williams was the one who was sent to the penalty box.
Allegedly, during the scrum Williams grabbed the facemask of Wisconsin forward Jefferson Dahl, and was given a five minute major penalty. According to the rulebook, even though he's a goalie, Williams must serve his major penalty.
In all of my time covering hockey, I've never seen a goalie in the penalty box. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves--who has been around the game a long time--was also perplexed after the contest.
"That was most unique," Eaves said.
In place of Williams, backup goaltedner Phil Cook was forced to come into the game cold off the bench while Williams served his penalty.
Minnesota State would kill off the major penalty, but before they could get Williams back into the net, Wisconsin would strike with the go-ahead goal.
Once again it was Wisconsin's grind-line, as Dahl was able to go top shelf on Cook to give the Badgers a 3-2 advantage. Both Little brothers would be credited with assists on the play.
"It was really nice to see them rewarded," Eaves said after the game. "They were rock solid without the puck, and they chipped in two big-time goals."
"Without them, we're not as successful as we are tonight."
Things were far from over, however. With less than two minutes to play, MSU's leading scorer Matt Leitner was able to notch his second goal of the night on a wrap around attempt that was able to beat Peterson through his five-hole.
The late conversion would send the game into overtime, a place that makes Wisconsin fans cringe given their lack-of success in the extra session during the Mike Eaves era.
Tonight, however, was a different night.
With just 32 seconds remaining in the extra session, senior captain John Ramage took a feed from freshman winger Nic Kerdiles and slithered through the slot before firing a wrist shot past Williams to send the Wisconsin bench into a frenzy.
Ramage's game winner was Wisconsin's first overtime road victory since November 3rd, 2006 against Alaska-Anchorage. During that streak, Wisconsin was 0-9-20 in overtime games played on the road.
With the overtime monkey off their backs, this is something that Wisconsin can build upon going forward.
"It's a confidence issue," Eaves noted. "Having done it, especially on the road, is a good building stone toward getting to where we want to be at the end of the year."
Wisconsin is now 6-0-3 in their past nine games, and seem to be gaining confidence every time they touch the ice. This win is another stepping stone in their journey according to junior center Jefferson Dahl.
"That's definitely something we needed," Dahl said after the huge victory.
"Especially the way the first-half went, we were in those games in the third, and to finally finish off one, that's something we can build off of."
Wisconsin will be back in action Saturday night vs Minnesota State in game two of this pivotal WCHA series.
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