MADISON, Wis. — When Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin set the nonconference schedule with nationally-recognized teams like Wisconsin and New Hampshire, he knew that the team would struggle to find success early on.
He also knew that, with such a schedule, the team would be prone to blowout defeats. Saturday was one of those games. In front of 11,232 fans, the Badgers skated away with an 8-0 victory.
“We knew coming in here that something like this could happen,” Gotkin said. “We’re trying to get better for our league and I like to think that this is going to help us.”
Wisconsin used crisp passing Saturday night and took advantage of opportunities, outshooting the Lakers 43-18 and converting on three of six power plays.
“The guys were more comfortable out there,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.
Wisconsin sophomore Brian Elliott got his first career shutout in net for the Badgers. He played a solid 60 minutes and got a great effort from the players in front of him as the Badgers blocked 21 shots.
“That’s always been one of our main messages, to get big-low and block shots, especially on the penalty kill,” Eaves said.
“It’s great to get the first one out of the way,” Elliott said. “Everybody played great in front of me.”
Mercyhurst sophomore Mike Ella did not fare as well in his collegiate debut, giving up eight goals on 43 Wisconsin shots.
Mercyhurst did all it could to battle through the first two periods and was down just 3-0 heading into the final 20 minutes. But the Badgers tacked on five goals in the third period as the Lakers saw things spiral out of control.
“I thought it quietly got away from us in a big way,” Gotkin said. “We could just never get going.”
The Badgers took the lead midway through the opening period as rookie Matt Auffrey got his second goal of his young career. He wrapped the puck around the net and sent it into the far corner to make it 1-0 Wisconsin.
Jake Dowell doubled the lead with his second goal of the weekend four minutes into the second period on a Badger power play.
Dowell skated the puck into the zone, passed it ahead to Ryan MacMurchy, who dropped it back to him. The sophomore backhanded the puck between Ella’s legs to put the Badgers up by two.
MacMurchy, the Badgers’ leading returning scorer from last season, missed Friday night’s contest due to suspension. The Badgers welcomed him back Saturday as he assisted on each of the first three goals.
“I was definitely trying to prove something. It was really tough sitting out and I just really wanted to play,” MacMurchy said.
Wisconsin got another power play goal, this time from Ross Carlson, with less than a minute left in the second period. The Badgers carried that momentum into the third, where the rout was on.
The Badgers scored three goals — all even strength — in less than three minutes early in the third period. Dowell and Carlson each added their second goals of the night while rookie Joe Pavelski got in on the action as well.
As if that were not enough, Wisconsin got two more goals from A.J. Degenhardt and Tom Gilbert in the final seven minutes of the game.
Carlson, Dowell and MacMurchy each finished with three-point nights, while three other Badgers enjoyed two-point performances.
“I feel a lot more confident with the variety of scorers on our team. As the year goes on that’s just going to increase,” Dowell said.
“We know better where we’re at. I still think we need to go to another level,” Eaves said. “The guys can walk away from this weekend with a growing confidence.”
The eight-goal margin was the largest by the Badgers since a 10-2 win over North Dakota on December 5, 1992.
“It doesn’t feel good now,” Gotkin said. “Losing never feels good, but we like to think that we’re going to be able to use some of these things and get better.”
After accumulating 60 minutes of penalties Friday night, the teams cleaned up their act and were whistled for only 34 Saturday.
Eaves credited referee Scott Zelkin with the change. Zelkin, after watching tape of Friday night’s game, met with Eaves and Gotkin to speak about what he saw.
The meetings allowed the coaches to convey the message to the players and prepare them for smarter play Saturday night.
“This is going to be a feeling-out process for everybody. We’re all going to have to work together to create a better product and this was a positive step this weekend,” Eaves said.
Wisconsin looks to continue its winning streak, beginning its WCHA season with a home series against Michigan Tech. Mercyhurst will continue its tough schedule with a game next Saturday at New Hampshire.