Madison, Wis. — When the NCAA announced it would be stricter in calling penalties this season, it wasn’t kidding.
Mercyhurst and No. 9 Wisconsin used 60 minutes worth of penalties Friday night to generate five power-play goals. Mercyhurst capitalized on two of its three first-period power plays to take an early lead, but saw it slip away as the Badgers scored three man-advantage tallies of their own to escape with a 3-2 victory in front of 9,848 fans.
“I think all the things that we did so well in the first period and a good part of the second period somehow got away from us in the third period,” Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin said
The referees wore out their whistles calling 30 minor penalties, stealing the show amid a tough comeback win by the Badgers.
“We’ll talk about it as a team,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said of the penalty calls. “I saw our guys trying to do the right thing. It’s going to take some time but we’re going to go through the bumps here until we learn to do the right thing.”
The Badgers had multiple opportunities on the power play early in the first period, including two lengthy five-on-three chances, but could not capitalize.
Mercyhurst, on the other hand, took advantage early on. The Lakers scored twice late in the opening period.
The first goal came with four minutes left in the first period when junior defenseman Conrad Martin drove to the net. The puck was deflected to the opposite side of the cage, where senior David Wrigley was ready and waiting. Wisconsin goalie Bernd Bruckler could not shift in time to stop the shot.
Minutes later the Lakers added to their lead with Martin setting up the opportunity again. Martin had the awareness to push a broken stick out of the way before taking a pass from T.J. Kemp. Then he flung the puck toward the net and Dave Borrelli redirected it, bouncing it past Bruckler.
In the locker room, the Badgers did not get down on themselves.
“The guys were great on the bench,” Eaves said. “[They] said, ‘No problem, we’ll handle this.’”
“As a captain I’m trying to make sure no one is panicking,” junior Adam Burish said. “The first thing I said was ‘Let’s relax and get back to work here.’”
The second period saw more of the same from the officials as they called 18 more minutes worth of penalties.
The two teams went back and forth until Wisconsin halved the deficit with less than two minutes showing on the clock.
Just 10 seconds into the power play, Badger rookie Matt Auffrey attempted to pass the puck through the crease to teammate Tom Gilbert. Instead, the puck found the stick of Mercyhurst forward Erik Johnson and got by Mercyhurst goalie Andy Franck, cutting the lead to 2-1.
It was at that point that the Lakers began showing signs of fatigue and Wisconsin took the momentum.
“There were some fundamental breakdowns,” Gotkin said. “We didn’t get to the loose puck quite as efficiently in the third period.”
Auffrey appeared to score the game-tying goal just minutes into the final period when he chopped the puck past Franck. However, the referee waved the goal off, ruling that the whistle had been blown beforehand.
The Badgers eventually tied the game up 6:39 into the period. This time it was sophomore Jake Dowell scoring on the power play. It took the Badgers 10 seconds again, as Ross Carlson made a great pass to a wide-open Dowell right in front of the net. Dowell beat Franck to tie the game at two goals apiece.
The reeling Lakers fought hard deep into the third period, but wound up giving up the game-winner with five minutes remaining.
With the power play winding down, the Badgers got the puck in front of Franck, who made an initial save but was unable to cover the puck. He sprawled out in front of the net with the puck loose until eventually Wisconsin forward Robbie Earl snuck the puck under Franck’s outstretched arms for the game-winning goal.
“If you’re going to win championships, you have to scrap, you have to play desperate and you have to play smart,” Eaves said.
Franck’s strong effort went unrewarded on a night when he made 43 saves — nearly twice as many as Bruckler — and the goals he gave up were tough to take.
“We knew for us to have a chance we were going to have to have great goaltending, and Andy Franck played wonderful,” Gotkin said.
On the other end of the ice, Bruckler, after giving up two goals in the first period, settled in. He made 13 saves in the final period for a total of 22.
“It’s difficult to play when you see your teammates struggling to score,” Bruckler said. “All I have to keep in mind is to keep them in the game.”
With the penalties called as they were, it was tough, even for the coaches, to decipher the difference between good penalties and bad.
“We’re going to learn how to play within the NCAA’s new rules,” Gotkin said. “I can’t really figure out what was a good penalty and what was a bad penalty at this point, but there were a lot of them.”
“If you put a stick on someone, they’re going to call it. If you get in their way, they’re going to call it,” Burish said.
When all was said and done, the Badgers’ perseverance paid off.
“We knew we were up against a real good team in a tough building, but we’re disappointed,” Gotkin said.
The two teams will conclude the series Saturday night.