It may not have been the prettiest performance of the season, but the Wisconsin men's hockey team was able to saddle up in the third period to earn a 4-3 conference victory over Big Ten foe Penn State Saturday night.
Wisconsin (6-5-1, 2-2-0-0 Big Ten) had leads erased by Penn State (3-9-1, 0-2-0-0) in both the second and third periods, but a goal from sophomore Nic Kerdiles with eight minutes remaining in the final stanza was the difference for the Badgers in front of 10,079 fans at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Flashbacks from last year's overtime loss had to be in the minds of the Badgers, but head coach Mike Eaves reiterated after the game the coaching staff stayed on the team about having a winning mindset.
"We talked about mindset a lot tonight," Eaves said after the game. "We talked about mindset at the meeting coming into the game, we talked about mindset in between periods and we talked about it on the bench. Our mindset, we stayed persistent. We had a steely resolve to do what we wanted to do and it paid off for us.
"The exciting thing about this, it helps us form our team identity. We've been talking about this early in the season. Last year had an identity that they earned as the year went on, and you only create that in terms of games, and tonight was an important piece for us."
The player of the game for the Badgers was senior Sean Little, whose goal and assist were crucial in the victory. Not normally known for his offensive prowess, Little had a key first period tally and set up another by defenseman Joe Faust by laying a big hit and causing a turnover that resulted in a Wisconsin third period goal.
"He's that spice in your stew that gives it some flavor," Eaves said. "He comes out, he plays hard. He plays his game, he keeps it simple. We've been asking him chip in, go to the next level."
The Badgers also received a power-play goal from Michael Mersch in the second period, his team-leading eighth of the season.
Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel wasn't at his best, but was good enough to win with 27 stops on 30 Penn State shots. Including last season, Rumpel moves his record to 7-2-1 when starting back-to-back games.
Wisconsin will be back in action next weekend as they host Colorado College.
"The Big Ten is open now and we're fighting for three points every night," Kerdiles said. "Getting six points on the weekend is huge. Whether it was ugly or not, we got it done. Now we'll look forward to next weekend."
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