MADISON, Wis. — This weekend is Bernd Bruckler’s final series at the Kohl Center, and there was little doubt that he would be looking to make the most of it.
But few might have expected the performance that he put up Friday night, making 39 saves as Wisconsin nabbed two crucial WCHA points, beating Colorado College 5-1.
The Badgers got off to another slow Friday night start and were outshot 17-6 in the opening period, but the senior netminder kept his team in the game long enough for them to get on the board in the second period and add four more in the third.
“To me, the story of the game is the fact that Bernd Bruckler gave us a chance to get our legs, get used to their quickness and abilities,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “Without Bernd in the net for that first period and a half we were in big trouble.”
“All the talk this week was about this being my last two games at the Kohl Center,” Bruckler said. “Certainly I had a little bit of focus on that. I just really want to go out on a high note and play my best. Fortunately I was able to do that tonight.”
Sometimes the stat sheet just doesn’t reflect progression or outcome of a hockey game. The Badgers were outshot 40-25 in the game, but they scored on four of their first eight shots in the final period.
For whatever reason, the Badgers were slow from the get-go Friday night. The Tigers were the aggressors, but Bruckler turned away 17 shots.
“We needed to get a goal early, but it just didn’t seem like it was going to be,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “It’s disappointing. It’s an odd game. Just look at the shots and look at the score.”
“I don’t know what it is sometimes with us, we just don’t come out ready. [Bruckler] really stepped up for us. He kept us in it and we finally got in it,” junior forward Ryan MacMurchy said.
The second period got off to a similar start, but down 24-12 in shots on goal, Matt Auffrey gave the Badgers the lead at the 11:22 mark.
Tom Gilbert skated in towards the net on a UW power play and fired a shot on sophomore goalie Matt Zaba. Zaba blocked the puck, but allowed the rebound. With the puck loose in the slot, Auffrey skated in and popped it over Zaba’s leg for his first goal since the opening week of the season.
One should have known that the first team to score would skate away the winner. The Badgers came into the game 16-1-1 when scoring first, while the Tigers posted an 18-1-1 record in the same circumstance.
The momentum, and the game, shifted from that point. The Tigers kept the Badgers from adding to their lead for the remainder of the second period, but the same could not be said in the third.
Just 55 seconds into the final period, MacMurchy stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated into the zone. Skating in from the left side of the net, he used a great backhand shot to chip the puck into the top corner of the net for the eventual game-winning goal.
From there, the floodgates opened for the Badgers.
At the 5:22 mark, Ross Carlson, looking to pass the puck to the slot, glanced the puck off CC forward Brandon Polich’s skate and past Zaba.
Less than a minute later, Zaba gave up a simple backhand goal to Wisconsin’s Nick Licari. Licari would get his second of the night less than five minutes later to make it 5-0 Wisconsin.
Bruckler carried the shutout past the 57th minute before the Tigers finally got on the board on the power play. After blocking the initial shot, Bruckler had no chance at stopping Brett Sterling’s rebound effort.
Bruckler, disappointed in his play over the past two weeks, played one of the best games of his season and was rewarded with his 50th career victory.
“He’s a winner. That’s what the bottom line is for a goaltender,” Eaves said.
In the other net, Zaba finished with just 20 saves on 25 shots in his first Friday-night start of the season. Senior Curtis McElhinney, the usual Friday netminder, sat out of Wednesday’s practice with a back injury.
“We would have stayed in our rhythm [if not for the injury],” Owens said. “Matt’s a better goaltender than that, but he got hung out to dry a little bit too.”
While most teams might have been fairly satisfied with a 5-1 victory, the Badgers were just glad to skate away with a victory when they did not play their best game.
Eaves’ move to match up Licari, MacMurchy and Andrew Joudrey against that of Sterling, Marty Sertich and Jimmy Kilpatrick paid off. The veteran line not only played stellar defense, but netted three Badger goals.
“It was very nice to contribute offensively, but our main job was to shut that line down and I think we did a pretty good job of that,” Licari said.
But for Licari, a pretty good job is not good enough.
“To be honest, that shorthanded goal we gave up stings. That kind of ruined my night. I take that pretty serious,” he added. “So it was nice, but we have to come back tomorrow night and finish things off.”
With Denver’s comeback victory over Minnesota-Duluth, the Pioneers are tied with Colorado College for the WCHA lead, with Wisconsin three points behind. Saturday night’s game will set the tone for the final two weeks of WCHA action.