MADISON, Wis. — Brad Winchester had a goal and two assists, and Wisconsin ran out to a 4-0 lead in a 4-2 victory over Alabama-Huntsville at the Kohl Center on Friday night.
The Chargers (0-1) opened their season and a six-game tour of the WCHA that includes games at Denver and Minnesota.
Erik Jensen added a goal and an assist and Tom Gilbert had two assists for the Badgers (2-1).
Badgers coach Mike Eaves, however, three games into his first season at Wisconsin, is not entirely satisfied with the performance of his team, which is still in the process of learning a new system.
“I don’t think we prepared as well as we needed to,” Eaves said. “[Alabama- Huntsville] played with energy; they had more energy than we did in the beginning because they were excited to be here.”
The first period showcased myriad scoring opportunities for both teams, but only one goal. Alabama-Huntsville’s greatest problem was the dimensions of the net.
Only one minute into the game a shot by UAH senior left wing Karlis Zirnis flew past Badgers senior goaltender Scott Kabotoff, only to deflect off the post. A similar play occurred midway through the period, as a well-prepared one-timer by the Chargers bounced harmlessly off the crossbar.
The Badgers, though, were not to be denied a score. Eight minutes into the first period, Jensen sent a quick pass to Winchester, who was camped out in front of the UAH net. Winchester managed to beat Chargers goaltender Mark Byrne for the first goal of the game.
The Badgers’ best chance to take a two-goal lead in the first period came on a penalty kill, when a mid-ice steal set up a promising breakaway with eight minutes left. Zirnis opted for a hooking penalty rather than give the Badgers a chance to score, however.
The Badgers’ offense started the second period with a number of shots on goal. Byrne’s terrific play was the main factor in the Chargers’ ability to prevent a Wisconsin score for the first half of the period.
It took a 5-on-3 power play for Wisconsin to notch its second goal of the night. A holding call on Doug Watkins 8:37 into the period, followed by a blatant interference penalty against senior Steve Charlebois over a minute later gave Badgers junior Rene Bourque a chance to rebound Alex Leavitt’s blocked shot and dump it into the net for a 2-0 lead.
The third period saw a strengthening of the Badger lead when senior Mark Jackson backhanded a rebound past the Chargers goalie one minute into the period.
“The third goal was huge, because if it’s 2-1, then the momentum changes,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “It took a little wind out of their sails.”
Things got worse for the Chargers when Gilbert and Winchester combined again to assist Jensen in scoring the Badgers’ fourth goal. Coming in from the left side of the net, Gilbert sent a pass to Jensen on the right side, which was quickly shot into the net before the goalie could slide over.
Alabama-Huntsville was not to be shut out, however, as Zirnis avenged his earlier miss by taking advantage of a power play. Zirnis rebounded a blocked shot from Mike Funk and put it past Kabotoff for the Chargers’ first goal of the night.
Penalties against UW’s Jensen and Kabotoff toward the end of the third period saw a 5-on-3 power play for UAH that lasted 1:41. Wisconsin managed to prevent a power-play goal, but slipped up almost immediately upon getting to full strength.
Alabama-Huntsville defenseman Doug Watkins assisted freshman winger Craig Bushey on their team’s second goal of the night. Bushey beat Kabotoff to the Watkins pass and cut the Badgers’ lead to two goals with 1:42 left in the game.
The UAH rally was too little, too late, however.
“I think the biggest thing was the goaltending,” Winchester said. “We weren’t as sharp as I think we’d like to be tonight. Luckily, we were able to get a few goals and hold on to that lead.”
The Wisconsin victory can be largely attributed to the success of its penalty-kill unit. The Badgers were called for seven penalties and allowed only one goal as a result. While on the penalty kill, UW broke up a number of Chargers one-timers and, for a large part of the game, prevented the Alabama-Huntsville offense from getting into any kind of rhythm.
The Badgers even managed two breakaways on one penalty kill in the third period.
“They’re firing pucks at will and I got three guys standing there ready to block a shot,” Kabotoff said. “We just have people in the lanes taking away everything they’ve got.”
Wisconsin finishes its series with Alabama-Huntsville at 8:05 CDT on Saturday.