For the fourth time in five years Friday night, the Wisconsin Badgers opened their season against Northern Michigan. But after going 4-26-5 in 2014-15, the Badgers were unable to pick up a season-opening win after they tied the Northern Michigan Wildcats 2-2 at the Kohl Center.
In the past couple of seasons, the Badgers found themselves on the losing end of a last-second goal several times. Friday night was a different story. With goalie Adam Miller pulled with a minute to play, the Badgers did a great job to keep the puck in as freshman Seamus Malone fired the puck at the net with everyone crashing. The puck squirted out to senior defensemen Kevin Schulze, whose shot was deflected up into the air. With his back to the goal, senior Grant Besse batted the puck into the net past Northern Michigan goalie Atte Tolvanen.
"It kind of bounced out to Kevin [Schulze], he pushed it back and I kind of fell over and took a little baseball swing at it, luckily it was below the crossbar," Besse said.
The Badgers came out in the first period with energy and high pressure. The defense, lead by senior captains Eddie Wittchow and Schulze, held Northern Michigan to four shots in the first period and did not allow a single shot on the Wildcats' power plays.
Wisconsin's first line of sophomore Cameron Hughes, junior Jedd Soleway and freshman Luke Kunin were buzzing from the get go, creating opportunities at ease. However, the Badgers failed to capitalize on their five-on-three power play opportunity toward the end of the frame.
Sophomore Adam Rockwood's steal in the opening minutes of the second period caused Northern Michigan's Ryan Trenz to commit a hooking penalty, putting the Badgers on their second power play. With just seconds to go in the man advantage, sophomore Jake Linhart buried a slap shot from the middle of the blue line on a pass from freshmen Seamus Malone. The Badgers scored just 15 goals on 129 power plays last season, so a power-play tally to start the season is heartening to say the least.
Northern Michigan's power play took the ice two times in the second period, both on infractions from Wittchow. Again, Wisconsin's penalty kill was solid, allowing only one shot. With under five minutes to play in the second, the Badgers power play got another opportunity to extend the lead when Kunin rifled a one-timer off the crossbar.
The Badgers had 11 new players on the ice, and at times it showed. Although newcomers like Kunin and Malone stood out, there were times when the Badgers struggled having poise with the puck, which led to some costly turnovers. Head coach Mike Eaves said he thought UW showed both the promise and the pitfalls it had showed in practice.
"It's a process with this young group, but there were some excellent moments and moments that we're going to have to go back and learn from," Eaves said. "The rubber has hit the road. We'll start that process already tonight we'll watch video and get ready to share and learn that with the boys.
"I thought we had too many turnovers. I didn't think we were ready to move the puck when we got it and that hurt us."
Early in the third period, sophomore defenseman Tim Davison rang a shot off the post which proved to be a crucial miss. Minutes later, Northern Michigan scored on the power play, tying the game at 1-1. A little over two minutes later, the Wildcats scored again to take the lead, crushing what was a convincing first two periods for the Badgers.
"I didn't like the way we responded after they scored," Eaves said. "We seemed to sag. And I think that's a bunch of young guys looking around, 'OK, who's leading the charge back here?' We kind of sat there and looked around and that's got to be a lesson that it's got to be everybody to respond in a situation like that."
The Badgers will get another crack at the Wildcats Saturday night at 7 p.m.