With a three week lay-off between games over the holiday break, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Wisconsin's first game back wasn't flawless. Despite showing a weaknesses or two in the armor, the Badgers were able to prevail 5-3 over Alaska Anchorage in their first test of the second half.
Despite a few miscues on the defensive end, Wisconsin was able to walk away with a "W" because the offense was able to cover up some mistakes. That's something that wasn't happening in the first half for the Badgers.
"Quite honestly, we've played better and lost (this season)," UW head coach Mike Eaves said after the game. "The difference tonight was that we scored some goals."
Wisconsin struggled much of the first half of the season, starting just 1-7-2 after a multitude of adversity. Recently, however, Wisconsin has strung together a rather impressive unbeaten streak, which was extended to seven games Friday night in Anchorage (4-0-3).
UW got off to a fast start offensively on a goal that came from an unlikely source. Captain John Ramage--known for his defensive prowess--was able to give the Badgers' their first lead of the contest. Ramage picked up a feed from Keegan Meuer along the right side-wall, and carried the puck into the corner. Continuing on with the play below the goal-line, Ramage cut out front and was able to bury his own rebound past UAA goaltender Chris Kamal to give UW a 1-0 lead.
Wisconsin would extend their lead in the first period on a beautiful line rush. Junior right winger Michael Mersch carried the puck into the zone on a two-on-one and fed the biscuit over to sophomore Joseph LaBate on the attack. With a defender all over him, LaBate was able to one-time the puck past Kamal push the Wisconsin lead to 2-0.
LaBate's goal was his third of the season, a number that is not where the sophomore winger would have liked to be at this point in the season. That said, after a slow start, LaBate has played much better over the past six games, and is looking like the elite player that was recruited by Mike Eaves a little over a season ago.
Anchorage would cut Wisconsin's lead in half in the second period on Matt Bailey's third goal of the season. Jordan Kwas picked up a loose puck for UAA in the Wisconsin zone, and fed an open Bailey in the slot who was able to one-time a shot past UW starter Landon Peterson.
UW received a much needed boost 6:29 into the third period from team leading goal-scorer Michael Mersch. The junior winger brought the puck into the zone down the left hash and ripped a shot past Kamal high glove side to give UW the 3-1 lead.
The goal was Mersch's team leading 12th of the season, and now puts the Badger winger in a tie for second in the country in total goals.
Wisconsin was able to pull away just a minute later on a goal by Tyler Barnes. The play was started by top-line center Mark Zengerle who was able to thread the needle on a pass to Barnes on the back door of a line-rush. Barnes was able to hold off two Anchorage defenders and slip the puck past Kamal for his fourth of the season to give UW a 4-1 lead.
The game was far from over, however, as Anchorage was not ready to waive the white flag just yet. Back-to-back goals from Blake Tatchell and Kwas would cut the Wisconsin lead to 4-3, and give the Badgers' a significant scare at the end of the contest.
Wisconsin goaltender Landon Peterson was able to come up big on a few late chances for the Seawolves, however, shutting the door on any last minute attempts by UAA.
Zengerle would go on to ice the game for the Badgers' with an open net goal with :31 seconds to play in the contest.
Peterson finished the contest with 26 saves on 29 shots, while Kamal had 22 saves on 26 Wisconsin shots.
As I mentioned in the open, it was far from Wisconsin's best played game of the season. They were sloppy at times out in front of Peterson, and it cost them on a couple of goals that they shouldn't have given up. That said, a win is a wn, and you'll take WCHA points anytime you can get them.
Wisconsin and Anchorage will be back in action Saturday night at 10 p.m. CST.
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