DULUTH, Minn. — Wisconsin’s northwestern border stops just short of Duluth, Minn., but over the last five years, the Wisconsin Badger hockey team has figuratively owned this Lake Superior port city. That dominance continued Saturday night, when the Badgers won their tenth straight road game against Minnesota-Duluth, 4-1.
The win puts Wisconsin (5-3 overall, 3-1 WCHA) into a tie with North Dakota for fourth place in the WCHA, eight points behind front-runner St. Cloud State.
The Badgers took control with a goal late in the first period, and two goals in the second period that were part of a 20-shot barrage on UMD goaltender Adam Coole.
“The second period may be the best period we played as a team all year,” said Badger head coach Jeff Sauer.
Matt Hussey led the way offensively for Wisconsin, scoring two goals and assisting on the game-winner. Defensively, the Badgers saw a second straight strong performance from goaltender Scott Kabotoff, who turned aside 39 UMD shots.
Junior Lessard scored the lone goal for Duluth, who remains winless in the WCHA (4-5-1 overall, 0-5-1 WCHA), and tied with Michigan Tech for ninth place.
Sauer says he was impressed with Kabotoff’s work in and out of the net.
“He’s seeing the puck extremely well. I really like the way he’s moving the puck, really effectively becoming a good third defenseman.”
The Badgers needed some of Kabotoff’s defensive play early in the game. UMD took the early, 19-9, lead in shots in the opening period. Yet, Kabotoff turned aside all 19, including a point blank, shorthanded chance from Tom Nelson during the opening minutes, and a pad save on a one-timer from Lessard that forced him to jump from post-to-post. Kabotoff also stopped all six shots thrown at him on a five-on-three Duluth power play.
His teammates responded late in the period.
Alex Leavitt notched the opening goal with just 1:47 remaining on an impressive set-up by David Hukalo and Dave Hergert. Hergert first sent a pass to Hukalo from behind the extended goal line to the slot. Hukalo then skated toward the net, deked to his left as if he was about to shoot, then dished a backhand pass to find Leavitt wide-open in the right wing face off circle. Leavitt then popped the puck into a wide-open net for his third goal of the season.
UMD captain Judd Medak says that goal turned out to be a confidence-crusher.
“We had played one of our best periods all season,” said the senior winger.
“We were all over &No. 8216;em. We outshot &No. 8216;em, and we didn’t make too many mistakes. When we did make a mistake, the puck ended up in our own net.”
The Badger lead extended to 2-0, when Brad Winchester scored the eventual game-winner just 2:17 into the second period. Hussey set up the play with a pass from the right wing boards, Winchester finished it, by firing the puck into the top shelf above Coole’s glove.
Wisconsin would continue to spend a lot of time in the Duluth zone most of the period. Meanwhile, UMD’s rushes would wind up with many shots going above or wide of the Badger net.
“He [Kabotoff] goes down a lot, and covers the bottom of the net well,” says Medak. “We wanted to get it upstairs and had a tough time doing that all weekend.”
The score became 3-0 when Hussey jammed in a puck that Coole appeared to have in his control. The UMD goaltender seemed to have the puck frozen along his right goal post, but Hussey found an opening and poked it through with just 1:12 to go in the middle session.
Kabotoff’s shutout bid ended early in the third period. Lessard skated in from the right wing blue line, around a defender and slipped the puck past the netminder at the :40 mark.
UMD continued to sustain pressure deep in the Badger zone during most of the final period’s first ten minutes, but failed to get any closer.
Wisconsin made it 4-1, when Hussey scored his second goal of the game with a one-timer from the slot with less than six minutes to play. John Eichelberger set up the play when he skated in across the blue line on the left wing, weaved around a defender and sent the puck across to Hussey. The goal also started sending many of the 4,736 people at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center toward the exits.
Overall, the line of Hussey, Eichelberger and Winchester ended up combining with seven points on the evening.
Emotions did seem to pick up in the game’s final three minutes although penalties fell well short of the 35 whistled Friday night. The teams limited themselves to only 23 Saturday, with ten coming as a result of a scuffle in front of the UMD bench that ensued after Medak was whistled for checking Wisconsin’s Andy Wheeler from behind. The incident led to Medak being assessed a game misconduct and ten-minute misconducts called against Wheeler, Kent Davyduke, and Lessard.
Sauer says the fewer penalties and more five-on-five hockey helped his team.
“We’re getting contributions from a lot of different people.” said Sauer.
“One of the big plusses of our team is our depth, we have four solid lines that we can rotate consistently when we play five-on-five.”
As for his team’s dominance in Duluth, Sauer downplayed his team’s winning streak that dates back five years as of Sunday.
“We haven’t played them a lot, and now they have a new coach and they’re putting in a new system,” said the veteran Badger coach.
“I don’t look at it like we’re dominant, but we’ve had some luck in this building.”
Wisconsin will look for some more luck when it hosts Michigan Tech for a two-game WCHA series next weekend.
At the same time, UMD will continue to look for its first conference victory with a road series at Minnesota.