Some games things come easy, like they did for Wisconsin Friday night in a 5-2 victory. Other nights, you're forced to scrap and claw to earn points in the ultra-competitive WCHA.
Saturday's game vs Alaska Anchorage (3-16-5, 1-15-4 WCHA) was more of the latter, as the Badgers (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) had to overcome some adversity in losing both of their senior forwards to earn a 2-1 victory in front of 13,167 at the Kohl Center.
"We grinded it out, we solved the riddle on a night that was tough," UW head coach Eaves said after the game. "We lose a senior winger in Ryan Little to illness, and Derek (Lee) is out (head injury). So guys had to step up and solve that riddle."
Lee's injury came in the second period on a hit that looked to be contact to the head. No penalty was assessed on the play, despite every official looking directly at the infraction on the ice.
The star of the night for Wisconsin was junior center Jefferson Dahl who has really come on in the second half. Eau Claire, Wis., native assisted on Wisconsin's first goal of the game, and chipped in one of his own in the second period that turned out to be the game winner.
"Jefferson in the second half has chipped in offensively on several occasions, and tonight was one of those nights we needed someone to step up with losing Derek Lee, and he did that tonight," Eaves said. "He's as solid of a performer as we have, you know what you're going to get out of Dahl game-in, game-out."
The goal was Dahl's fourth of the season, and his seventh point overall. Five of Dahl's seven points have come in the past six games.
After a scoreless first period, the Badgers jumped on the scoreboard 1:22 into the second period on a beautiful passing play between Dahl, Nic Kerdiles, and Tyler Barnes.
Kerdiles intercepted a pass along the left side-boards and was able to hit a moving Dahl streaking into the zone. Dahl then swiftly threaded a pass to Barnes on the back door who was able to chip one home for his sixth goal of the season, and second in the past two nights.
Wisconsin would hit payday again just three minutes later, and once again it was Dahl making a nice play. Junior defenseman Frankie Simonelli fired a shot on goal that Anchroage goaltender Chris Kamal was able to stop, but Dahl was there to pick up the rebound and bang it home to put UW up 2-0.
"We talked about getting passes through," Dahl said after the game. "(Simonelli) put one on net and there happened to be a rebound and it found my stick."
Anchorage would get on the scoreboard with just one minute remaining in the second period on a goal by Jordan Kwas, but UW sophomore goaltender Landon Peterson was air-tight in the final 20 minutes to secure the victory for Wisconsin.
Saturday's game was the first that Peterson had played since Jan. 11th, but he was sharp regardless, stopping 21 of 22 Seawolves shots. The win was Peterson's fourth in a row, and fifth overall on the season (5-2-2).
"Exactly what we thought we'd get out of him," Eaves noted after the game. "He's such a competitive young guy."
After starting the season 1-7-2, Wisconsin has gone 10-1-3 over its past 14 contests. Additionally, Wisconsin has run its WCHA unbeaten steak to 10 games (7-0-3), and find themselves in a tie for fourth place in the league with North Dakota.
Junior winger Tyler Barnes noted after the game that this team has come a long ways from the start of the season.
"The strides we've made over the year have been pretty amazing."
Speaking of North Dakota, Wisconsin will have a chance to play them head-to-head in just one week. The Badgers will hit the road next week and travel to Grand Forks in hopes of keeping their momentum going in the last ever meeting of these two teams as members of the WCHA.
For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)