Wisconsin Sweeps North Dakota 5-3, 5-4
The criticisms of the 2011-12 Badger hockey have been blasted on repeat since the start of the season. They're too young. They can't score. Their goalies have no experience. They don't have enough leadership. They can't win with kids straight out of high school. They can't win a big game. They can't even beat Michigan Tech.
Apparently someone forgot to tell the team.
Freshman winger Joseph LaBate spoke after the series finale about the Badgers attitude heading into this weekend. "I think we just went in with clear minds, and we just focused on North Dakota."
Playing with a "bend but don't break" attitude, the Badgers were able to put up ten goals on the weekend en route to a weekend sweep of the 5th ranked Fighting Sioux at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin was able to put five goals in the net Friday night in a 5-3 win. The Badgers reached that same goal plateau on Saturday, completing the sweep with a 5-4 victory. The last time the Fighting Sioux allowed five goals on back to back nights came in 2004.
Once again Wisconsin received brilliant play out of their freshmen net-minders. Landon Peterson stopped 24 North Dakota shots on Friday night, including a highlight reel save on Fighting Sioux sniper Corban Knight on a back door one timer.
Badger head coach Mike Eaves was impressed with the biggest save of his young goaltenders career.
"All I know is it was as good a save as we’ve seen in this building in a while," Eaves said. "The thing is that Landon has been around hockey long enough to know that guy was there and his leg was already loaded to push off and get there."
Joel Rumpel held serve in the goalie competition on Saturday, with a dazzling 38 save performance to seal the Badger sweep.
"Without his effort in the net we don’t have a chance," Eaves noted after the game Saturday night. "I thought that he competed really hard for loose pucks, he fought the puck. He fought to see the puck through lots of screens. His rebound control was pretty good, and when he had a chance to handle the puck he did a nice job as well, so it was a pretty complete game for a young freshman."
With only ten goals through four games, the Badgers doubled their season output over the weekend in two games. One of the more encouraging signs for Wisconsin was receiving goals from nine different players on the weekend. Only sophomore Mark Zengerle found the back of the net more than once.
"It speaks to the formula that we’re going to need to have this year. We’ve said that since day one it was going to have to be by committee that we get some goal scoring with the loss of the people that we did lose," Eaves noted Saturday night. "This is going to be our formula for winning—spread out kind of production by both forwards and defensive. If we’re going to be successful this is going to be the formula."
That formula included goals from all three defensive pairings, and three out of the four lines.
It was no surprise to see goals from Justin Schultz, Derek Lee, Michael Mersch, LaBate and Zengerle, all guys who show up in the box score on a regular basis. However it's depth goals from John Ramage, Joe Faust, Ryan Little, and Brendan Woods that earn a sweep against a great team like North Dakota.
One of those goals from a "depth guy" had many who saw the game Friday night on television wearing out the rewind button on their DVR's. Woods, a freshman from Fairfax, Virgina dangled around Sioux defenseman Derek Forbort, a first round NHL draft pick, and made a beautiful move on UND goaltender Aaron Dell, depositing the puck in the back of the net on his backhand for his first goal in a Wisconsin uniform.
"The boys were saying they’d have to get up early to see that play on ESPN," Eaves remarked after the game Friday with a smile on his face.
Friday night the Badgers opened up the scoring on a nice two on two rush by sophomore Tyler Barnes and Zengerle. Barnes entered the zone and cut across the ice leaving a drop pass for Zengerle, who found an opening under the arm pit of Fighting Sioux goaltender Brad Eidsness.
After a goal by UND forward Mark MacMillian to tie the game at one, Schultz found the twine on the power play, unleashing a howitzer from the top of the left faceoff circle.
The Badgers would extend their lead to 3-1 early in the second when Mersch buried a loose puck in the crease. A shot by Tyler Barnes looked initially to be held on to by Eidsness, but the puck some how rolled past him where Mersch was waiting to tap it across the line.
Wisconsin would make it 4-1 five minutes later when North Dakota turned the puck over in their own end, and Derek Lee weaved his way through the slot before beating Eidsness for what would be the game winner.
Fighting Sioux coach Dave Hakstol saw enough of his senior net-miner after the Lee goal, replacing him with Aaron Dell.
The change in net sparked a come back for the Fighting Sioux. A Nick Mattson shot from the left faceoff circle bounced off the skate of Ramage, and past Peterson for UND's second goal. Carter Rowney would cap the Sioux scoring a few minutes later on a rebound goal.
The highlight goal by Woods was the last goal of the night by either club, giving the Badgers a 5-3 victory.
Saturday night UND was first on the board when an effort play from Joe Gleason earned Taylor Dickin a goal nine minutes into the first period.
The Badgers would bounce right back with two goals in a minute, one from LaBate, and one from Little to go into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead for the second night in a row.
The Badgers extended their lead to 3-1, 4:25 into the second period when Ramage was able to blast a shot past Dell, while Wisconsin was a man short on the penalty kill.
Danny Kristo, one of the elite scoring threats in the WCHA almost single highhandedly lifted UND back in the game. Kristo found the back of the net in the second, and third period to tie the game at three with just under 13 minutes to play.
The Badgers would bounce back, and take the lead for good when Zengerle notched his second goal of the weekend. Six minutes later Joe Faust would give the Badgers the insurance they needed to complete the sweep with his first goal of the season.
North Dakota's Brock Nelson would go on to score with less than a minute remaining, and despite a furious charge from UND, Wisconsin was able to hold on for the win, and the series sweep.
While victories over a good North Dakota club came at a much needed time, Wisconsin's head coach was quick to point out after the series that by no means has this team arrived at the mountain top.
"I think that the win gives us a nice positive boost in terms of our and willingness to come back and win," Eaves said. "In the same breath, I’d tell you that we’ve got a lot of work to do."
The Badgers will be in action again next weekend as they host the University of Nebraska-Omaha Friday and Saturday night at the Kohl Center.