MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin and No. 14 St. Cloud State skated to a 2-2 tie on a night when each team played without one of its best.
The Huskies entered Friday’s contest without top goal-scorer Ryan Malone, who is recovering from a knee injury. Alex Leavitt, the sophomore assist leader for UW, was also absent in the wake of a recently-revealed altercation with head coach Mike Eaves.
Wisconsin team leaders Brad Winchester and Rene Bourque rose to the occasion, though, and made up for the absence of their linemate by contributing a goal each.
“We just sorta came together as a team, put the extra distractions away, went out there and played hard,” Badger wing Erik Jensen said.
St. Cloud captain Jon Cullen was not as fortunate, doing nothing to make his team forget about Malone. Cullen was stymied by the Badger defense all night and registered no shots on goal.
The normally stagnant Wisconsin offense managed one of its most impressive performances of the season, outshooting the Huskies 31-19. The Kohl Center crowd even gave its team a standing ovation at one point in the third period, something they have had little reason to do as of late.
“The guys did a great job in terms of staying focused,” Winchester said. “They were up to the task at hand and all the other stuff that’s going on really has no pull on what happens tonight or tomorrow night.”
After a scoreless first period, St. Cloud (14-11-4, 10-9-4 WCHA) opened up scoring with a goal from Brock Hooton one minute into the second. The lead would not last long, however, as Bourque notched his team-leading 15th goal of the season at 10:57.
“When they scored their first goal, our next four shifts may have been our best,” Eaves said. “So the response was great, which is a great sign of the character of the boys.”
The Badgers (10-19-4, 4-15-4 WCHA) broke the tie in the third period courtesy of a power-play goal from captain Winchester. Though ranked among the worst power-play units in Division I, Friday marked the fifth game in a row in which Wisconsin has scored on the man advantage.
Mike Doyle collected the tying goal at 8:29 of the third after converting on a one-timer. Despite consistent offensive pressure from each team, however, neither was able to score for the remainder of the third or in overtime
Highly-touted Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler made 17 saves on the night with two goals against. St. Cloud netminder Jake Moreland defended 29 shots.
Both squads showed their determination throughout the game. Though there were only a total of nine penalties, the Badgers and Huskies dealt out a number of crushing checks and played with aggression from beginning to end.
St. Cloud put a damper on the fans’ spirits at 18:59 of the second period. Hooton, stationed in front of the UW goal, redirected a wrister from winger Joe Motzko into the net. The puck trickled by the leg of Bruckler, who had lost track of it.
The score was 1-1 at the second intermission due to a score from Bourque. Erik Jensen skillfully maneuvered his way through the Husky defenders and managed a shot on goal that Moreland fell to the ice in order to save. Before the goalie could recover, Bourque reached the loose puck and lightly backhanded it into the net.
The Wisconsin penalty killers dealt a demoralizing blow to St. Cloud toward the end of the. Jake Heisler, minutes after coming out of the penalty box, was called for slashing, forcing his teammates to play shorthanded for another two minutes. Though facing a stiff challenge from the Huskies, the Badgers prevented a goal for almost four straight minutes.
“I knew they’d play good, I knew they’d play hard,” SCSU head coach Craig Dahl said. “They’re at home, they won’t roll over; nobody does in this league.”
At 15:12 of the third period, Winchester put the Badgers on top. The captain received the puck on the right side of the St. Cloud goal and found himself with a clear lane to the net. Winchester took a quick wrist shot and watched as the puck deflected off the glove of Moreland and into the goal.
A little over halfway through the third, Mike Doyle tied the game at 2, the result of a one-timer that beat Bruckler to the back of the net. Peter Szabo was credited with the assist.
Wisconsin forward John Funk gave the Badgers their best chance at a victory midway through overtime. The freshman carried the puck toward the Husky goal and fired off a blistering shot. Funk’s accuracy was off, however, and the puck soared above the net.
Despite not getting the win, Eaves was impressed with the way his team played against one of the top teams in the nation. “I thought for 60 minutes we were as good as we’ve been all year,” Eaves said.
The Badgers are now within three points of Michigan Tech, the eighth team in the WCHA standings. St. Cloud falls to seventh in the conference, but only trails Denver and Minnesota-Duluth by one point.
Friday was the 50th all-time meeting between the conference rivals. This weekend’s series, the only one of the season between Wisconsin and St. Cloud, will wrap up Saturday night in Madison.