MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin was given a golden opportunity with just 3:27 remaining in Saturday night’s game with Colorado College. With the Badgers down 2-1, CC forward James Brannigan was sent to the penalty box for hooking, giving the Badgers a two-minute power play.
But what might have been their biggest power play of their season told the story of the game. The Badgers were unable to set anything up in their zone and could not get one shot on senior goalie Curtis McElhinney, falling 2-1 and splitting with the Tigers on the weekend.
“It was a gutsy effort by us, I thought,” CC coach Scott Owens said. “I thought Wisconsin was as good as they were last night. I’m proud of our guys for their effort.”
The Badgers, who were second in the league and 10th in the nation on the power play coming into the weekend, went 0-for-6 Saturday night, mustering just four shots.
“Can you spell anemic?,” UW coach Mike Eaves said of his team’s woes on the man-advantage. “It was just one of those nights. The power play was just an extension of the issues we had with the puck all night.”
It seemed fitting, then, that the Tigers — the only team in the WCHA with a higher power-play percentage than the Badgers — got the game-winning goal on a power play of their own. Even more fitting was the player who scored it.
Defenseman Brady Greco played high school hockey just minutes from the UW campus at Madison-Edgewood. He sometimes even practices with Badger players during the summer.
“I’m real good friends with a lot of these guys,” Greco said. “It feels good to come home and play well against these guys.”
On Saturday night, he thanked 30-plus family members and friends who came to the Kohl Center to watch him play by firing a blazing one-timer from the top of the left circle over the shoulder of Bernd Bruckler, off the right pipe and into the net.
Earlier in the game, Greco had one shot deflect off the cross bar and watched Bruckler save another, but he kept working and was eventually rewarded.
“You just gotta put your nose to the grindstone and take every opportunity you get,” Greco said. “I was a little frustrated in the first period … but I came back and buried the opportunity I got in the second period. It felt real good.”
The goal, just minutes into the second period, broke the 1-1 tie, and the Tigers made the lead stand up over the final 35 minutes.
Each team got on the board in the first period thanks to a lapse on defense.
Wisconsin scored first when Colorado College sophomore defenseman Lee Sweatt turned the puck over to Badger forward Jake Dowell on a bad pass in the Badger zone.
Dowell skated in on McElhinney, faked once before pulling the puck right and then backhanded it past the senior goalie for his 10th goal of the year.
McElhinney usually starts on Saturday, alternating with Matt Zaba, but the two had to switch this week after McElhinney was hindered by a back injury. It didn’t show, as he made 23 saves and allowed just one goal.
“We’re so superstitious around here that we wouldn’t have flip-flopped them,” Owens said. “But he didn’t practice Wednesday and looked like an old man on Friday morning so we flip-flopped them. I was surprised he was able to go today.”
Trevor Frischmon skated into the zone. UW defenseman Joe Piskula could not keep up with the junior and he skated to the right circle before backhanding the puck over Bruckler’s right shoulder, tying the game 1-1.
Greco added to the CC momentum by scoring early in the second. The Badgers got two power-play chances in the period, and two more in the third, but could not find a way to tie the game.
“I don’t know if a penalty has ever been declined in hockey, but I was sure wishing I could just throw out a flag and say, ‘We’ll play five-on-five.’ … It was that tough tonight. I felt bad for the kids,” Eaves said.
Bruckler finished his final weekend at the Kohl Center with 68 saves and just three goals allowed, but only one win to show for it.
“I will walk out of here with my head up, but I’m really disappointed right now. There’s a lot going through my head … a lot of emotion. I wish it would have been a different outcome,” Bruckler said.
For just the third time this season, Marty Sertich and Brett Sterling were held scoreless in a game. Ironically, the team is 3-0 in such games.
But the big story was the Badgers’ power play — or lack thereof. The Badgers went 1-of-9 on the weekend with just seven shots. Worse yet for Wisconsin, the Badgers have converted on just five of 48 attempts over the past nine games.
With Minnesota-Duluth’s win over Denver, the points separating the league’s leaders remain the same as last week. Colorado College leads the Pioneers by two points, while the Badgers sit five points back. Both DU and Wisconsin have two games in hand on the Tigers.