The Wisconsin Badgers' home opener on Friday night saw the smallest crowd for a regular-season game at the Kohl Center since its opening in 1998. On Saturday night, in front of a significantly larger crowd, the Badgers looked to get their first win of the season.
Night two of the season-opening series against Northern Michigan did not start particularly well for the Badgers, who trailed 3-0 heading into the third period. However, Wisconsin staged a character-defining comeback with three goals just 2:46 apart from sophomore Ryan Wagner, junior Jedd Soleway and freshman Luke Kunin to tie the Wildcats 3-3.
"We went in there as a coaching staff and what was really important to us was the mindset that we had as we sat there preparing for the third," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "And the mindset that we wanted to have was we’re down 3-0 and we need to go out there and try and get the first goal and build momentum. Not think about the fact that we were down 3-0 but the fact of what we had to do."
That is exactly what Wisconsin did, drawing a tripping penalty within the first five minutes. Although the Badgers would not capitalize, they seemed to develop some offensive flow that led to another power play minutes later with 8:07 remaining. Sure enough, UW took advantage as Wagner buried an empty-net rebound, cutting the deficit to two.
Forty-nine seconds later, Soleway scored his first of the season on a wrist shot to make it 3-2. The momentum had completely switched in favor of the Badgers and seconds later, the Wildcats committed two penalties in the same sequence, resulting in a 5-on-3 for the Badgers, their second of the weekend. With 29 seconds left on the two-man advantage, Kunin netted his first as a Badger on a one-timer from the top of the right circle to tie the game at 3-3.
Saturday night was freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik's first start at the collegiate level and it did not take long for Northern Michigan to exploit the 18-year-old's inexperience. The Wildcats looked to be having another slow start as the Badgers dominated the opening five minutes of the game until Jurusik let the third shot he faced trickle in off his glove. Junior John Siemer was awarded the goal, making it 1-0 with 13:30 left in the period.
Wisconsin failed to respond with some offensive pressure and with 4:34 to go in the first period, Northern Michigan defenseman Ryan Trenz carried the puck into the offensive zone and flung an innocent wrist shot from the blue line that deflected off a Wisconsin defender standing in front of Jurusik.
With a little over two minutes remaining in the first period, Wisconsin got its first power-play opportunity that saw shots from both teams hit the crossbar on consecutive rushes. Soleway ended up taking a penalty that would carry over into the second period. At the end of one, the score was 2-0 Northern Michigan.
Just as the Badgers killed off the remaining seconds of Soleway's penalty, sophomore Jason Ford was boxed two minutes for holding. Wisconsin's penalty kill proved to be one of the positive takeaways from the weekend, as the Badgers surrendered only one goal on six Northern Michigan opportunities.
At 15:16 in the second period, Northern Michigan's Ryan Black took an interference penalty, putting Wisconsin on its second power play. However, it was highlighted by Northern Michigan getting yet another short-handed chance.
Less than a minute after killing the penalty, Northern Michigan made it 3-0 on defenseman Jordan Klimek's slap shot from the point. Jurusik appeared to be screened by traffic in front and did not have a chance to pick up the shot.
With a little over two minutes remaining in the second, Soleway crashed the net in a desperate attempt to create some offense and was called for goalie interference. Northern Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen was also called for embellishment, resulting in 4-on-4 hockey to end the period. Although the Badgers out-shot the Wildcats 22-20, the Wildcats were dominating the first two periods.
The third period, however, was a different story. The Badgers out-shot the Wildcats 22-5 in the final frame and Jurusik was equal to the task as the teams skated to overtime for the second night in a row. The overtime failed to produce a winner, leaving the Badgers with two ties to start the season.
The Badgers head east to Massachusets to face No. 1 Boston College on Friday and No. 3 Boston University on Saturday. Two seasons ago, the Badgers began the year with the same two series. They swept Northern Michigan but looked completely over matched against both BC and BU. This time around will not be any easier, as the two Boston power houses are off to winning starts. Both games start at 6 p.m. CT.