MADISON, Wis. — Plenty of things stood in the way of Wisconsin extending its nation-leading unbeaten streak to a school-record 15, but the Badgers washed all of them out with an 8-1 blowout victory over the Union Dutchmen.
The list was long: having two weeks off and many players heading home for the holidays, the head coach and three star freshmen in Finland for the World Junior Championship, and three team members suspended, one their top goaltender.
But none of these distractions stood in the way. The Badgers gave up the first goal of the game, but stormed back with eight in a row.
With the myriad of players out of the lineup in Saturday’s contest, the story of the game was whether the chemistry would remain, and in the end it did.
“Certainly some of the things that came up alter your ability to keep the continuity that we’ve had,” associate head coach Troy Ward said. “Anytime you miss key individuals your players have to be sharp and have to answer that.”
It was obvious that the chemistry was not there right away. Union jumped to a 1-0 lead eight minutes in. Jason Visser skated in and passed the puck back, but got it again right in front of the net and put it past goalie Brian Elliott to give Union the lead.
Elliott got the start in net after regular netminder Bernd Bruckler was suspended. Bruckler, who is 9-3-4 on the year with a 2.31 GAA, will sit out both games this weekend for violating team rules. Robbie Earl and Brent Gibson were suspended for the first game, but may play Sunday night.
“When team situations or rules are not abided by, then it is our role to adhere to those,” Ward said. “And it doesn’t matter to the staff whether they are our best player or our worst player, we hold everyone accountable.”
“We already had three guys that were going to be gone so we just looked at it as those guys being gone too,” Dan Boeser said. “It didn’t really affect our preparation.”
Despite a sloppy first ten minutes, the Badgers seemed to get things going in the second half of the first period. They tied it up 11 minutes in when Rene Bourque got control of the puck behind the net and skated toward the goal and fired a shot. Union goalie Kris Mayotte seemed to have stopped the shot at first glance, but it fell behind him and into the goal.
Wisconsin got its second goal two and a half minutes later when Adam Burish flung the puck towards the net. A.J. Degenhardt was ready and waiting and he one-timed the puck past Mayotte to give his team the lead. That goal would have been enough, but the Badgers would not be satisfied.
“We started off a little slow, but the guys wanted to get to 15 and I hope that they don’t want to stop now,” Burish said. “We want to keep going and prove something to the rest of the country. We want to be number one.”
More than three minutes later the Badgers struck again. This time Degenhardt did the passing as he found Boeser in front of the net. Boeser then blasted the puck by Mayotte’s stick giving the Badgers the 3-1 lead.
The Showdown continued its shootout-type play as Wisconsin tallied three times again in the second period. They carried their momentum through the second period and skated to a 6-1 lead.
Their first goal of the period came more than three minutes in when Boeser centered the puck to Tom Gilbert, who fired it over Mayotte’s shoulder.
More than ten minutes went by before they got on the board again. Leading scorer Ryan MacMurchy skated with the puck between the circles. He had a chance to shoot backhand but opted to flip around, and fired the puck past the goaltender’s stick. Still, the scoring continued.
Two minutes later the same line converted as the puck got away from Bourque. Andrew Joudrey gathered it in and blasted it over the tumbling Mayotte. At that point, the Badgers had six goals by six different players and a five goal lead.
Any energy that Union had left going into the second was lost by the end of the period as they had given up six straight goals and had put just 10 shots on net in two periods.
It did not stop there either. Wisconsin was relentless as they held Union in check and tallied twice more in the final period. MacMurchy and Degenhardt each notched their second goal of the night, closing out an 8-1 victory at the hands of the Dutchmen.
“[Being physical] has been the role of our line all year,” Degenhardt said. “We are hard-nosed guys. I think that’s one of our strengths and that created chances for us tonight.”
When all was said and done a record had been broken and the Badgers rolled to their 15th straight game without a loss.
“I thought this was one of the better team efforts we had all year,” Ward said. “A lot of guys contributed and I think that says a lot about our group.”
The Badger Showdown looked more like the Badger Shootout after 7-4 and 8-1 finals on Saturday. Union will take on Massachusetts-Lowell Sunday afternoon in the consolation game. Wisconsin will take on Ferris State in the nightcap for the tournament championship.