MANKATO, Minn. — As of late, Wisconsin and Minnesota State-Mankato have both been in what most considered scoring slumps. That seemed to change Saturday night as the two teams exploded for nine goals and the Badgers held off numerous MSU rallies to win 5-4.
Four times Wisconsin (10-12-2 overall, 8-7-1 WCHA) generated a two-goal lead, and four times the Mavericks battled back within one goal. But MSU could never find the equalizer as the Badgers earned the series split and climbed two points up on MSU (11-14-1 overall, 7-12-1 WCHA) in the WCHA standings.
Wisconsin was lead offensively by junior Brad Winchester, who tallied two goals and an assist, and Dave Davyduke and Andy Wozniewski, each adding two assists.
In a losing effort, MSU received two goals apiece from sophomore Shane Joseph and senior Andy Hedlund in front of a home crowd of 4,167.
The Badgers’ first goal came at 13:31 into the first period. Senior Matt Hussey, with the puck behind the goal line on the left side, passed out front to Winchester. Despite having a defenseman obstructing him, Winchester was able to one-time the pass from just in front of the goal. His shot beat sophomore goalie Jason Jensen low stick side for his ninth goal of the year.
“I was just trying to find a spot in the slot, and Hussey made a great play,” said Winchester. “I just tried to go back to the far side with it.”
Wisconsin added to its lead on the power play with 1:20 left in the first. Defenseman Brian Fahey took a hard slapshot from the point on the left side. Senior Matt Murray streaked in front and deflected the shot over Jensen to put UW’s lead up to 2-0.
The Badgers outshot the MSU 16-8 in the first and took their two-goal lead into the intermission.
The Mavericks were resilient, something they would remain all night, and they cut the lead in half as they scored their own power-play goal 3:06 into the second.
Freshman Grant Stevenson controlled the puck from the left faceoff circle and feathered a pass through the crease to Joseph. Joseph was set up on the right side of UW’s Scott Kabotoff and tapped the puck in for his first tally of the night.
The Badgers answered at 8:40 of the period as Winchester found defenseman Dan Boeser sneak in from the blue line. Boeser got the pass on the left side and put it past the MSU goalie for his fourth goal of the year.
Back came Minnesota State to score 3:05 later. After a penalty kill, Hedlund scored one of his two goals by blasting a slapshot on net from the right side of the blue line. Kabotoff got his stick on the puck, but the shot went over him and into the net.
Just as MSU seemed close to tying the game, Winchester and the Badgers scored again. Senior Davyduke grabbed the puck in the right corner of MSU’s zone and sent a hard pass towards Winchester. Heading towards the net, Winchester redirected the pass over Jensen’s glove to send UW into the third with a 4-2 lead.
“Davyduke made a nice pass out of the corner, and I just tried to tip it over his glove,” explained Winchester.
But with a five-on-three power play advantage to start the period, MSU came within one again as Joseph tapped home his second power-play goal. His team-leading 15th goal came on a play almost exactly like his other goal, as he tapped in the puck from the left side of the net. Joseph scored four goals on the weekend against Wisconsin.
Keeping with the pattern, senior Matt Doman scored to once again give the Badgers a two-goal lead. The eventual game-winner for Wisconsin at 3:06 of the period came off a turnover in MSU’s zone. Alex Leavitt grabbed the puck in the corner and sent it back to Wozniewski, who in turn made a drop pass to Doman. The senor winger made no mistake as he fired a laser past Jensen.
With less than ten minutes left in the game, defenseman Hedlund scored again from the point to bring MSU within one.
But Kabotoff stood tall in net from there on out to preserve the win. His best save came as freshman Grant Stevenson attempted to go five-hole on the UW goalie during a 2-on-1 rush. Kabotoff squeezed the pads and made one of his 20 saves on the night as Wisconsin went on to the 5-4 victory.
Playing in his last game at Mankato due to his impending retirement, UW head coach Jeff Sauer was pleased to see his team bounce back from Friday night.
“I thought we played very well tonight, I thought we played very well offensively. We had a lot of chances. Understandably, this is a game we had to win. If we don’t win tonight, we’re having trouble getting home-ice advantage in the playoffs. This is a big win.”
Elaborating on the must-win situation, Sauer said, “I put the pressure on the team before the game that this was the first gut-check of the year in terms of needing a win. And the guys went out and got it done.”
MSU head coach Troy Jutting was upset with his team’s defensive lapses that lead to Wisconsin goals.
“We were in the positions to make the plays, and we just didn’t make the plays that we needed to defensively,” said Jutting. “It was frustrating in the ways that they scored. Not to take anything away from Wisconsin — I think they played hard-but I also think we gave them goals that were far too easy. You can’t expect Jason to make plays on the goals they got tonight.”
“It’s disappointing,” he added, “but we’re young and we’re going to have a few ups and downs. Tonight we just didn’t execute the way you need to.”
Hedlund agreed with Jutting and was upset with his play on the night, despite his two-goal performance.
“My defensive play tonight was just awful, and I was kind of overshadowed by that,” said the team captain. “We were shooting ourselves in the foot. It was the dumb things, the little mistakes, that just killed us.
“I think at this point in the season everybody’s on the same page, and we wanted to win so bad tonight,” continued Hedlund. “We wanted to play so hard, but we just made some dumb mistakes, dumb turnovers, so it wasn’t really a matter of us giving up. We wanted to win so bad, and then we were mad at ourselves for making those little mistakes that we wanted it even worse. That’s the reason we kept going there in the game, but it’s just too bad we couldn’t find a way there late in the third.”
The Badgers return home and will host the St. Cloud Huskies next weekend. MSU has next weekend off and will resume play in two weeks to host Michigan Tech.