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Wisconsin men's hockey: Three-goal second period gives Badgers first win in 2016

Mike Eaves's lineup adjustments made an immediate impact and helped the Badgers to a 4-3 win over Alaska.

Wisconsin’s final non-conference series started Friday night at the Kohl center as the struggling Badgers looked for their first win in 2016 against the Alaska Nanooks. The last time the two teams met was to open the Badgers 2014-15 season when Nanooks beat the Badgers for the first time in a close game by the score of 1-0.

This non-conference series against an Alaska (7-13-4, 5-11-4) team that Wisconsin (4-12-6, 1-7-2) has never lost to at home comes at an opportune time for the Badgers as they hope to use this weekend to refocus and gain some confidence heading into the second half of Big Ten play.

"It comes at a very good time," said head coach Mike Eaves. "We back off here a little bit in the Big Ten and maybe we can ride our ship here with this series, that’s our hope, and then get ready to jump back into it."

Eaves certainly had to be pleased with the way his line-up adjustments impacted the game on Friday night. Sophomore Corbin McGuire and freshman Jarod Zirbel, in place of the suspended senior captain Eddie Wittchow and junior Aidan Cavaliari, combined for two of the Badgers four goals in a 4-3 victory.

Wittchow and Cavaliari were serving suspensions for illegal hits in last weekends Minnesota series. In an unorthodox move by the coaching staff, McGuire was switched to defense in absence of Wittchow and Zirbel was given just his twelfth start of the season in place of Cavaliari on the fourth line.

"This was coach Luke [Strand’s] idea. Corbin is a very good skater and Luke felt that he would have the ability to get back to pucks quickly and break us out and he provided that tonight," said Eaves.

"The bonus was him getting the goal and one goal was taken away. Offensively Corbin did a great job and that was a great shot in the arm for us. But, in that process you have got to give a lot of credit to Kevin Schulze because he was Corbin’s partner and kind of took care of him, never left him out to dry, always there for him, talking to him."

Friday night’s affair had the makings of another close game for the two teams. The Nanooks controlled most of the play in the first half of the opening period, collecting the majority of offensive zone-time.

The Badgers did well to limit freshman goalie Matt Jurusik’s exposure and as the first period winded down, the Badgers began claiming the majority of offensive zone-time. And in the last minute of the period the Badgers set up in the zone and McGuire cashed in on the Badgers increasing momentum to make it 1-0 UW.

Schulze started the play looking for a give-and-go with sophomore Adam Rookwood who was posted-up on the half boards. Rookwood’s return pass intended for Schulze was just out of reach and it slid right to McGuire at the middle of the blue line. He let go a quick slap shot to beat freshman goalie Jesse Jenks for his second goal of the season.

The game opened up in the second period and the two teams exchanged goals just seconds apart on two separate occasions.

To begin, it was Alaska’s penalty kill that would strike first. At 6:20 sophomore Ryan Wagner was dragged down on his way to the net resulting in the Badgers first power play chance. About half way through Alaska’s penalty kill, senior captain Tyler Morley came down the ice on a shorthanded opportunity and beat Jurusik on a hard slap shot from the top of the right circle. The Nanook’s leading scorer’s thirteenth goal of the season tied the game at 1-1.

Then, just 18 seconds later, the Badgers responded to regain their lead during the remaining power play time. Sophomore Jake Linhart wristed one towards the net and Wagner tipped it pass Jenks for his seventh of the season.

Less than five minutes later, the Badgers extended their lead to 3-1 on what would be freshman Jarod Zirbel’s first goal as a Badger.

"He got a chance to play and gets a goal. That whole line of [Jason] Ford, [Matt] Ustaski and Zirbel did very well. They got a lot of ice time tonight because they built trust with the coaching staff and they chipped in offensively," said Eaves.

However, 35 seconds later Alaska cut the lead to 3-2 on a goal from senior Nolan Huysmans.

Then with 6:11 left in the second period, the Badgers went back to the power play for the second time. Just as the man-advantage expired, the Badgers regained their two-goal lead on Wagner’s second of the game. Freshman Seamus Malone made a great pass from behind the net and Jenks had no time to react to Wagner’s quick release.

Heading into the third period the Badgers led the Nanooks 4-2. Early in the third, Morely netted his second of the game to cut the lead to 4-3.

Then, McGuire looked to have had his second of the game but after further review the call on the ice was reversed. Alaska had an opportunity to tie the game when they were awarded a five-minute power play to close out the game but were unable to beat Jurusik.

The Badgers will try to complete the sweep over the Nanooks Saturday night with puck drop at 7:00 p.m. CT.