MADISON, Wis. — If there was any question whether Wisconsin would be able to put the puck in the net this season, it has been answered in the last two games.
After an 8-0 rout of Mercyhurst last Saturday, the Badgers notched a 7-3 victory over Michigan Tech Friday night.
For the second straight Friday, the Badgers outplayed the opposition in the first period, but for the second straight week failed to capitalize on early opportunities and instead dug themselves a 2-0 hole.
Wisconsin outshot Michigan Tech 17-8 in the opening period, but the Huskies got the early bounces that the Badgers did not. The resilient Badgers, though. used four straight second-period goals to grab two points in their WCHA opener.
“We were down 2-0, but I bet we outchanced them 2-1,” Badger head coach Mike Eaves said.
“We’ve been in that position before,” junior assistant captain Tom Gilbert said. “We went in the locker room and there was not a lot of panic because we know we have that offensive power. We came out of the second period flying.”
The Badgers indeed came out firing, and it took them just 12 seconds to cut the deficit in half.
A turnover by Michigan Tech behind its own net allowed the Badgers to capture the momentum. Sophomore Ross Carlson took the loose puck, skated around the net and fired a shot at Tech goalie Cam Ellsworth. Ellsworth blocked the shot but the rebound went straight to Badger forward Nick Licari, who hit the open net to make it 2-1.
Less than a minute later, a Husky penalty gave the Badgers a power play. Defenseman Kyle Klubertanz used the man-advantage to tie the game 1:30 into the second period. Klubertanz fired a shot from the point which found its way through a slew of players and into the net.
While the Badgers did not panic after the first period, the Huskies lost the steam they had to begin the second. It was all Badgers from there on out.
“When you’ve got a 2-0 lead, you need to come out and play simple hockey and get the puck out of your end,” Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell said.
A.J. Degenhardt slipped an odd-angle shot through Ellsworth’s legs with less than seven minutes to play and junior captain Adam Burish converted shorthanded minutes later for what would be the game-winning goal.
Burish captured the puck and went on a two-on-one break with Licari. After bringing the puck into the zone, Burish passed forward to Licari, who left it back for Burish. He ripped home a wrister off over Ellsworth’s glove.
The play was similar to the shorthander Michigan Tech scored in the opening period.
After converting on the power play midway through the first, the Huskies and Chris Conner converted while down a man just minutes later.
Conner, who tied a WCHA record with eight shorthanded goals last season, decided to help out teammate Brandon Schwartz, leaving him a pass on a two-on-one break that gave Tech the two-goal lead.
Conner, the runner-up for preseason WCHA Player of the Year, was held to just two shots on goal.
The Badgers came from behind for the second week in a row, and did so with authority. Although they gave up a goal with less than a minute to play in the second period, they came out firing again in the third with three more goals.
Ellsworth, after making 17 saves in the first period, collapsed under the Badger attack. He finished with 35 saves, but struggled down the stretch.
“I thought he had a very good first period, and it ended there,” Russell said. “I don’t think our team defense played a game where they gave up seven goals.”
Russell knows that his team will continue to struggle if it cannot find consistency in net.
“Cam didn’t have a good outing in the second or third period, but Bryce (Luker) didn’t have a good weekend last weekend, so I’m open to suggestions,” Russell said when asked who would start Saturday night.
For Wisconsin, netminder Bernd Bruckler finished with 17 saves in the win.
The Badgers have something going on the offensive end, scoring 18 goals in three games — 17 of which have come after the first period.
Wisconsin has now outscored the opposition 10-0 in the third period this season, a stat which can be attributed to hard work both on and off the ice over the summer.
“We have to give full credit to (strength and conditioning coach) Mike Potenza. He puts us to the limit every time we step in that weight room,” Carlson said. “And we have to give credit to the guys too for showing up in the summer even though it’s optional, and doing what we need to do to get it done.”
If the Huskies are unable to find a backstop, it could be the same story Saturday night. The Badgers will try to keep things rolling Saturday night as they look for a sweep to open the conference season.