ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Maybe two guys do make that much of a difference.
At least in the case of the Wisconsin Badgers, they do. Jeff Likens and Jake Dowell spent the last two weeks in Grand Forks, N.D., playing for the U.S. World Junior team. The rest of their regular team spent the time getting embarrassed at home, sputtering to a disappointing second-place finish in the Badger Showdown.
The tandem was back in red Friday night, and even though Wisconsin didn’t need any motivational help getting up for this weekend’s series with St. Cloud State, the two provided a spark.
And that spark turned into an all-out fire, as the Badgers thumped St. Cloud State 6-0 before 5,861 disappointed onlookers inside the National Hockey Center
“It’s been pretty intense since I got back,” said Dowell, who set up three of the first four Badger goals. “The guys filled me in on what happened last weekend, so we were real focused going into tonight.”
That was the case from the opening faceoff, as the Badgers quieted the building early and often. And when they needed help, Bernd Bruckler was there with support, turning away all 30 St. Cloud State shots to pick up his second consecutive shutout against the Huskies.
Wisconsin jumped the Huskies for two goals in the first period. Tom Gilbert started the onslaught, getting the Badgers on the board with a power-play goal just over four minutes into the game.
Andrew Joudrey set up Gilbert’s goal, and then made it 2-0 some 10 minutes later. After a St. Cloud State turnover in the left-wing corner, Joudrey gathered the errant puck and skated out into the slot untouched, circled the crease waiting for Boron to commit, then lifted a backhand upstairs.
It could have been worse. Joudrey’s goal swung the momentum towards the Badgers, and the play stayed in the St. Cloud State end for the rest of the period. Gilbert had a terrific chance to make it 3-0, but Boron got a toenail on his shot.
Gilbert got him back early in the second, with another power-play goal just 20 seconds in, ripping a one-timer from the right-wing circle that beat Boron low and to the stick side.
“I got a hold of that one,” said Gilbert.
It was the apparent backbreaker, but the Huskies did have chances to get back in the game in the middle period. Bruckler turned away all of them, and made his best save on a shot from Mike Doyle, camped in the slot during a St. Cloud State 5-on-3 advantage. Wisconsin killed off the front half of the two-man advantage, then put the game out of reach.
A.J. Degenhardt fought off a pair of Huskies at his own blueline, forcing the puck to center ice, then beat everybody to it before racing in on Boron shorthanded. Degenhardt made move to his left, then shoved a shot into the net.
“The second period was the difference,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “We had 32 shot attempts to their 10 but got outscored 2-0. That says it all.”
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves agreed.
“We took advantage of the chances we had,” said Eaves, whose Badgers improved to 14-6-1 overall and more importantly 11-4 in the WCHA, keeping themselves on top of the league standings.
Forth-liner John Funk added a pair of garbage goals in the third, emptying the building with over 10 minutes to go in the game.
“It’s embarrassing,” said St. Cloud State senior Dave Iannazzo, who had a number of chances end up under Bruckler. “It’s our own building and we didn’t have any fans in the stands in the third period. This is not the team we’ve had all season. It’s flat-out unexplainable, but we’re not getting the job done.
Iannazzo led a players-only meeting after the game, and basically told them the same thing.
“It comes down to work ethic,” he said. “And it wasn’t there tonight.”
It should be Saturday, and the Badgers are well aware of that.
“No team likes to get swept in the WCHA, especially at home,” said Gilbert. “We’ll have to play even better tomorrow night if we want to get out of here with two wins.”