It wasn't the cleanest performance, as evidenced by the nine penalties committed, but it was an effective one from the Wisconsin men's hockey team in its season opener vs. Northern Michigan. Playing in front of sparce crowd of 8,092 at the Kohl Center Friday night, the Badgers rode a three goal first period to a 5-2 victory.
The Badgers had just one week of official practice before Friday, leaving Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves unsure of what to expect in the opener.
"It reminds me of craps," Eaves said. "You roll the dice, you see what happens. We’ve had four practices. You go right into games, you really don’t know what you’re going to get."
No. 3 ranked Wisconsin came into the season with big expectations, and showed why in a dominant first period. Out-shooting the Wildcats 13-5 in the opening stanza, the Badgers received goals from Joseph LaBate, Jake McCabe and Michael Mersch to bust open a lead they would never relinquish.
"The statistics say that 68 percent of all teams that score first win games," Eaves said after the game. "You want to put those percentages in your favor. So, having a great start, getting that start tonight, is a good thing."
LaBate got the Badgers on the board first just five minutes into the period when he found himself all alone on the back door and buried a rebound past NMU goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom.
McCabe would extend Wisconsin's lead two minutes later while the Badgers were short handed. After a spinning shot on goal from senior center Mark Zengerle, McCabe was able to beat the Northern Michigan defenseman to the puck and deposit it in the back of the net for the 2-0 lead.
Sophomore Nic Kerdiles would pick up assists on both first period goals for the Badgers, extending his point streak to 13 games dating back to last season. Kerdiles has also recorded multipoint games in seven of his last nine contests and eight of his last 13.
Wisconsin's lead would be stretched to three later in period with a power play goal from Mersch. The big senior winger from Park Ridge, Ill., led the Badgers in goals last season, and made his presence felt once again with the tally on the man advantage.
Northern Michigan would add a goal of its own on the power play in the second period, as defenseman C.J. Ludwig was in the right place at the right time to bury an opportunity past Wisconsin goalkeeper Landon Peterson.
The Badgers would bounce back just one minute later as Zengerle was able to find Tyler Barnes for an easy tap in goal. The assist was Zengerle's second of the game.
Wisconsin would go on to score its fifth and final goal 1:43 into the third period on freshman Grant Besse's first career goal as a Badger. Minnesota's Mr. Hockey last season, Besse was a prolific scorer at Benilde-St. Margaret's high school. Linemate Jefferson Dahl fed Besse with a nice pass, and the rookie did the rest, firing a one-timer to extend UW's lead to 5-1.
A late power play goal from NMU's Stephan Vigier would cut Wisconsin's lead to 5-2, but the rally would prove to be too little, too late for the Wildcats.
"There are things we know we could have done better," Eaves said. "But we did more good things than poor things tonight."
For the game, Peterson finished with 18 saves on 20 shots, while Northern Michigan's Dahlstrom stopped 33 of 38.
The Badgers were never seriously tested in the opener, but McCabe said UW must clean up the penalties to win in the series finale Saturday night.
"We had way too many penalties, that’s for sure," McCabe said. "They are getting a lot stricter this year about holding calls and stick penalties, so we’ve got to tighten up there. Our best penalty kill is to not take a penalty."
After going 0-3 in season openers to start their careers, the seniors on the Wisconsin roster were happy to finally start a season off on the right foot. While the win was nice, Zengerle was already looking forward to taking care of the sweep tomorrow night.
"Our goal for the weekend is to go 2-0," Zengerle said. "So, we’ve got one more to close it out."
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