MADISON, Wis. — WCHA play began Friday night without any team cemented in its position in the league standings. All that began to change, finally, as Friday night ended.
The game between Wisconsin and Minnesota-Duluth helped solidify the top three spots as the two teams skated to a 2-2 draw at the Kohl Center. The game had a playoff feel, with plenty of energy and action. Both teams had plenty of scoring chances throughout the night.
The Bulldogs carried a one-goal lead into the final five minutes, but saw that lead erased after they were dealt two costly penalties, giving the Badgers a two-minute two-man advantage. Wisconsin was able to capitalize on that advantage, getting a goal by Dan Boeser, whose slapper got a piece of the goaltender before going in.
“We hadn’t had a five-on-three in three months, so I didn’t know how we were going to react, but they did a nice job and took what was given,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.
Nonetheless, neither team could score in overtime and the tie clinched second place for Minnesota-Duluth and cemented Wisconsin, which remained two points behind UMD, in third.
Meanwhile, afterwards, Minnesota-Duluth was still steamed about the calls that created a 5-on-3 late in the game. Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin refused to comment on the call after the game, saying only “I wish I could tell you what I wanted to tell you.”
Said Wisconsin’s Jake Dowell, “It was maybe a gift, but the fact that we took advantage of it and scored that goal is a big confidence booster.”
The first period provided a flurry of offensive opportunities and much fast-paced action for the 13,444 fans. Each team had several good opportunities and the teams skated to a 1-1 draw when the first 20 minutes had ended.
Minnesota-Duluth got things started early, taking the lead less than three minutes into the game. The Bulldogs’ goal all night was to get traffic in front of junior goalie Bernd Bruckler and it paid off early.
Sophomore defenseman Steve Czech got the puck at the top of the right circle and fired it at the net. Bruckler, screened by three players, had no idea where the puck was as it soared over his right shoulder, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
At the 7:50 mark of the period, Badger senior Rene Bourque thought he had tied it up when he wrapped around the net and backhanded the puck between sophomore goalie Isaac Reichmuth’s legs. However, the goal was disallowed because moments before Bourque netted the puck, one of the assistant referees blew his whistle behind the play to enforce two penalties.
But the Badgers scored anyway before the period was over. The goal was not counted as an official power-play tally, but it might as well have been. Four seconds after a power play ended, Jeff Likens rifled the puck at the net. Dowell was ready in front of Reichmuth and deflected it in.
The second period saw equal chances, but this time the Bulldogs left the ice with a one-goal lead.
The Badgers had good chances to score; perhaps the best came six minutes into the period. Robbie Earl came out of the penalty box as Reichmuth played the puck. The goalie attempted a pass but did not see Earl and passed it right to him. But Reichmuth held his ground and made the save.
The Bulldogs took the lead with another hard-working goal midway through the period.
With at least six players battling for the puck in the crease, Bruckler sprawled out, trying to cover the puck. But he could not keep the puck out of the net as Jay Hardwick popped it over Bruckler’s leg for his second goal of the season.
“I thought we had pretty good energy in the first period, and then we kind of lost our A-game,” Eaves said. “But I thought the guys showed great heart to stay with things and when the game was on the line I thought we came back with a lot of energy.”
The Bulldogs offense is tops in the league as far as goals per game, but the forwards did not come up with a goal on Friday night.
“That’s been a part of our successful second half,” Sandelin said. “We’ve had different guys doing it. We had two defensemen who had goals tonight. I like to see defensemen score.”
Bruckler’s 15 saves in the final 20 minutes kept the Badgers in the game, something that he has been known for all season.
“After the second period I was disappointed. I just had to refocus and now, looking back at it, I think I did my job in the third,” Bruckler said.
The teams return to the ice again tomorrow night and, although it seems irrelevant with the standings locked up, both teams still have something to play for. The Badgers will look to extend their unbeaten streak to eight games heading into the playoffs and the Bulldogs will want to get back on the winning track as the postseason begins.