MADISON, Wisc. — If it was not amazing enough that Notre Dame was ready to play Saturday night, it played their way to 2-2 draw against the fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in front of more than 14,000 fans.
Due to inclement weather and icy roads, Notre Dame’s bus trip, usually about four hours long, ended up taking about nine hours. After a three-hour delay 45 miles away from Madison, the team eventually settled into their hotel around 4 a.m.
“I think the leadership on the team did a really good job of saying ‘This is the way it is. We are not going to complain about it,’” Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin said.
Coincidently the team was not able to make their morning skate, but they came to the Kohl Center ready to play, and play they did in one of the most evenly matched games this season.
So even, in fact, that neither team scored an even-strength goal and even though the box score will show that Wisconsin outshot the Fighting Irish 17-2 in the third period, it did not feel as though the Badgers dictated play.
“I am satisfied with the effort. It doesn’t feel as good inside that we did not get the result because we have such high expectations now,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
For Notre Dame it was captain Aaron Gill coming through with both Irish goals. On the other side, the Badgers got both of their goals from one player as well, albeit from a far more unlikely source.
John Eichelberger tallied two power-play goals for Wisconsin. The senior entered the game without a score this season and just four goals in his 112-game career.
“He worked hard, but the goals that he scored were goal-scorers goals. He was at the right place at the right time,” Eaves said. “That’s what he has had in his past history and that’s what we’re hoping to draw out of him.
The first period of the night was fairly even as the teams traded power-play goals.
Six minutes into the game, Jeff Likens fired a shot at goalie Morgan Cey, who made the save but gave up a costly rebound. Eichelberger was there for the Badgers with his first goal of the night.
“Earlier in the week Coach sat me down and told me that I was going to get a chance to play and not worry about making mistakes so that gives you a lot of confidence,” Eichelberger said.
Notre Dame used two Badger penalties to control the last ten minutes of play and tied the game up with less than six minutes to left in the period.
Irish captain Aaron Gill got a little help from his assistant as Rob Globke shot a wrister at Badger goaltender Bernd Bruckler. Bruckler made the save but could not hold on and Gill poked it through his legs to tie the game at one goal apiece.
The two teams continued to battle equally throughout the second period but the Badgers would take a one-goal lead into the third after another Eichelberger power-play score.
Seven minutes into the period Rene Bourque wound up and fired a shot at the net. The puck was deflected in front right to Eichelberger who easily put it in the open net to regain the lead for Wisconsin.
A quick power play got the Irish right back into the game in the third period. It took just nine seconds for Ryan MacMurchy to go to the penalty box for boarding and Notre Dame took full advantage of it.
A Badger defenseman tried to clear the zone, but the puck bounced straight out to Gill. He got control and put a shot on net. It looked as though Bruckler made the save but the puck bounced off of him and past his right side, tying the game at 2-2.
The shot was just one of two for Notre Dame in the third period. On the other end, Cey turned the puck away 17 times to preserve the tie.
“I thought it was a pretty good game. Both teams capitalized on the power play,” Poulin said. “But there were also chances to win on both sides.”
With less than four minutes to play in regulation the puck got away from an Irish defenseman and rested just outside the crease. It looked as though Eichelberger had a sure hat trick, but the sprawling Cey somehow came up with the puck and covered it up.
“I thought it was going right in the net but the goalie made a great save,” Eichelberger said.
The junior netminder ended up with 36 saves on the night, a good sign after returning from injury. David Brown has been the starter for most of the season and was honored by the CCHA for his play in four different weeks.
“I’m impressed with the way they are handling it,” Poulin said. “Certainly they are both up to play every game, but they realize that as long as they are winning then we are in pretty good shape.”
Notre Dame had quite possibly its best chance with less than 15 seconds to play in overtime when a shot glanced off the top bar of the goal, but eventually the buzzer sounded, signaling the 2-2 draw.
“I thought we played pretty hard tonight and deserved to win, but it was a battle out there, a tough game,” Bourque said.