MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin’s WCHA home opener was one the Badgers would probably like to forget.
Needing just 21 saves from goaltender Brian Rogers, Michigan Tech shut out the Badgers 1-0 on the back of a workmanlike goal from forward Jon Pittis early in the second period.
“Going into this game they thought that they could sweep us,” Pittis said. “In the paper they were saying it was an eight-point series. Well, it’s a different story this year.”
“I give credit to their goaltender,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “He played extremely well and they got the goal that they needed to win.”
Neither team was able to establish a rhythm, resulting in few good scoring opportunities.
“There weren’t a lot of quality chances to score either way — probably ten good quality chances for them or for us tonight,” Sauer said.
In a grind-it-out type of game, however, it was the visiting Huskies that gobbled up most of the loose pucks, keeping the puck in the Badgers’ end for much of the evening.
“They had a jump and we didn’t,” Sauer said. “We just looked like we had heavy feet. There never was a lot of flow.”
An odd sequence led to the only goal of the game at 2:22 in the second period. Michigan Tech defenseman Clay Wilson started the play by sending the puck fluttering from the point toward the net, where Pittis was camping out. Pittis tipped the puck on net and UW goaltender Scott Kabotoff made the save, but could not cover the rebound. With the puck dancing precariously in front of the crease, Pittis and linemate Colin Murphy continued to flail away at it while Badger defenders tried to clear them — and the puck — out. Meanwhile, Kabotoff scooted across the ice, desperately seeking the puck. Eventually Pittis chopped at the puck, sending it bounding just off the ice, over Kabotoff’s outstretched blocker, through the legs of defenseman Dan Boeser and just across the goal line.
“I just did whatever it took to get that puck in,” Pittis said. “That is the main thing — do whatever it takes. That is what we did tonight.”
“They came across; they got a little bit of a shot away and I gave up a rebound,” Kabotoff said. “I couldn’t stop myself, I kept on sliding. I should have been sitting there in the middle of the net — the puck would have come right to me. It was bouncing around. There were three or four white sox that I could see around the puck and it just kind of bounced around, off their sticks, underneath their sticks, and it went right between Danny’s legs. He was back there trying to stop it just as much as I was. It was kind of a crazy goal.”
“You can’t let those opportunities up when the puck is right in front of the net,” Pittis said. “That is what wins and loses games — lucky bounces.”
For the Huskies, the victory, the team’s first win in the WCHA this season, was a step toward gaining respect in the league.
“Basically every team in this league has owned us,” Pittis said. “But slowly but surely, I think, we’re coming into this league and we’re making a point.”
“Teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota have to realize that we are becoming a team to compete with and if they don’t then they are going to see that, well, we tied Minnesota 5-5. We should have easily won that game. Like Wisconsin here tonight, they can’t take advantage of us. It is just a matter of respect — of them giving us respect. I don’t think anyone in the league has respect for us right now.”
The Badgers struggled to get opportunities throughout or take advantage of opportunities when they presented themselves. The Huskies entered the game having yielded 20 power-play goals on just 51 attempts, but they were solid Friday, holding Wisconsin scoreless on seven attempts. The Badgers took just 10 shots on the power play.
“They read the play very well,” Sauer said. “We didn’t get the puck to the net very well tonight on the power play. Hopefully tomorrow night we can do that.”
Wisconsin showed some life very early in third period. Just moments after the puck was dropped, Kent Davyduke poked the puck away from a Husky defender in the neutral zone and had a breakaway opportunity on Rogers. Davyduke deked to his forehand but the shot went wide of the net.
The Huskies nearly extended their lead at 5:45 in the third when Paul Cabana redirected a shot toward the net. The redirect fooled Kabotoff at first, but the Badger goaltender recovered quickly and pounced on the puck just before it reached the goal line. Kabotoff had 32 saves in the loss.
“Kabotoff played extremely well for us again,” Sauer said.
How does an onlooker figure out the Badgers? The team that has split with North Dakota and Boston College this season but is now 1-2 against Wayne State and Michigan Tech this season.
“We have a tendency to play to the level of our competition,” Sauer said. “We don’t step it up, we don’t take charge of things. That is what disappointed me especially with the veteran team we have at forward. BC forced us to skate so we skated. North Dakota forces you to skate so we skate. We should force other teams to skate with us. We didn’t do that tonight.”