MADISON, WI — Wisconsin left no doubt Saturday, dominating Minnesota State Mankato to close out a best-of-three WCHA playoff series with a two-game sweep.
Five different Badgers had two points apiece, including two goals from senior wing Matt Hussey, in a 7-3 victory.
Wisconsin was economical with its scoring opportunities, tallying two first-period goals on just five shots and notching four goals on just 11 shots on Wolverine sophomore netminder Jason Jensen. Freshman Jon Volp replaced Jensen midway through the second period, but did not fare much better.
With all of the higher seeds closing out two-game sweeps Saturday night, the Badgers are set to take on fourth seed Colorado College in the WCHA Final Five Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The win was Wisconsin’s fourth straight, marking the team’s longest winning streak of the season.
“It was a good four games here,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “I was very pleased with our lines. I thought the combinations worked well. Everybody played well tonight.”
Wisconsin may have suffered an injury to a key player, however. Junior wing Brad Winchester left the ice in the third period favoring his left arm. After the game Sauer said that he thought it was some type of shoulder injury, but there was no official word as to the extent.
Mankato controlled the play for much of the first period, but Wisconsin took an early two-goal lead. Wisconsin’s first goal came on a nifty give-and-go on a two-on-one by freshman wing Alex Leavitt and sophomore defenseman Dan Boeser.
Later in the period senior wing Matt Doman deflected sophomore defenseman Jon Krall’s point shot past Jensen.
“I thought the kids came out and played hard,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting said. “I just think it was one of those nights where the bounces off the shin pads and all of those types of things went Wisconsin’s way. The shots were dead even. I just think too many of the breaks early on went against us and things get going and it is tough to fight back.”
Still, the Mavericks seemed to have momentum at the end of the first period following junior Jerry Cunningham’s goal with less than a minute to go before intermission. The Badgers quickly turned the tables, rattling off three goals in the second period to jump out to a 5-1 lead.
“It was 2-0, but we did not get off to the kind of start that I wanted to,” Sauer said. “It was a bit shaky to start with, but we came back and we were able to stay ahead of them. We kind of took it away from them in the second period and I was pleased with that.”
The game served as a fine sendoff for Wisconsin’s seniors and Sauer, all participating in their last games at the Kohl Center. The senior class, who tallied nine points, scored four of the goals Saturday.
Senior wing Matt Murray continued to shine in his final games at the Kohl Center, getting an assist on Doman’s first-period goal. Murray finished with 17 points in his last 12 games at the Kohl Center.
Sauer, fighting back tears, again stressed that he will not begin to reflect until the season is over. After all, Wisconsin is still playing hockey this season.
“Let’s just sit on that question for a couple of weeks because we have a couple of things going on right now,” Sauer said. “From an emotion standpoint I tried to soak up as much of the atmosphere and that type of thing as I could. The students were great tonight. It was fun to watch them from (the bench). From that standpoint it was fun.
“I am having fun. I feel relaxed about things. I’m glad the team is having success because everybody has fun when you win.”
Now, Wisconsin has its sights set on Colorado College. The team also knows that it must win the conference tournament in order to make the NCAA tournament.
“The seniors and the upperclassmen on this team realize that we are going to have to win next weekend,” Sauer said. “I thought we played a very even game against CC last year up there. We played them three times (this year). We played them two out of three very close games. We are playing with confidence.”