MADISON, Wis. — His team’s two-man disadvantage having lapsed, Bernd Bruckler finally found time to relax a bit Saturday night.
The Wisconsin freshman goaltender, having made a pair of key saves to preserve a shutout in his first collegiate game, leaned back, rested his head on the top of his goal and let out a sigh of relief.
Bruckler’s actions spoke for the Badgers. A night after being shocked by Wayne State, Wisconsin regrouped for a 5-0 victory over the Warriors at the Kohl Center to salvage a split.
Brad Winchester scored two goals and added an assist for the Badgers (1-1), who avoided their first non-conference home sweep since 1985.
Bruckler was stretched to the limit — literally — by the Warriors (1-3) before his shutout went into the books. From one post the other and back again, he sprawled late to keep Wayne State off the board.
“I couldn’t sprawl out any more,” said Bruckler, who made 25 saves.
He didn’t have to. He made the initial save every time and saw his defensemen clear everything else.
“It’s another sign we had a great team effort,” Bruckler said.
It’s tough to argue, though, that the Warriors didn’t get what they were looking for in Madison. Friday’s 5-4 victory will go down as one of the building blocks of a program in just its third season.
But after winning the first one, Warriors coach Bill Wilkinson couldn’t help being just a bit on the greedy side. Coaches will tell you during the week that their goal is just one win on the road, but…
“If you had asked me coming in, I would say yes [to that],” Wilkinson said. “After last night, I’d say no. I’d rather have lost the second game tonight but played well.”
Wisconsin looked lost Friday night in searching for a late tying goal that didn’t materialize.
An even-strength goal, a 5-on-3 goal and 5-on-4 goal later, the Badgers on Saturday had the spark that wasn’t there in the series opener in jumping out to a 3-0, first-period lead.
The power-play goals — by Alex Leavitt and Matt Doman — came 25 seconds apart and helped the Badgers do what they couldn’t in the opener: take complete command.
The odd-man rushes the Badgers allowed one night before were history. They didn’t take as many shots on goal (35, compared to 54 in the opener) but didn’t need to.
Leavitt’s slap shot from the top of the right circle eluded Wayne State goaltender Dave Guerrera (30 saves) as he struggled to gain his footing. Doman followed up with a goal off a turnover behind the Warriors’ net for the three-goal advantage.
Combined with Winchester’s second goal of the night, for a 5-0 lead in the third period, the Badgers were 3-for-3 on the power play. They held Wayne State scoreless in seven attempts.
“Our special teams right now are very poor,” Wilkinson said. “We have to work on improving those, but we will. It’s just a matter of someone stepping to the forefront and getting it done.”
Bruckler got it done for the Badgers, and in circumstances a goaltender hates. He got his new red and white pads — replacing the blue ones he brought over from Austria last year — on Tuesday and didn’t have much time to break them in.
Bruckler played in a manner, though, that negated that situation. He flashed the talent that made him a highly coveted prospect last season.
“He showed us why we selected him as a goaltender,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “He wasn’t our first choice — I’ll be up front about that. In the end, I’m very pleased with the one we got.”
Bruckler said he didn’t allow thoughts of a shutout creep into his mind until he saw two minutes on the clock, but even then he had to endure one final Warriors power play.
He got plenty of help in the form of blocked shots and cleared rebounds.
“He got a shutout in his first game,” Winchester said. “That’s pretty special.”