GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Four years ago, Mike Eaves knew what it was like to coach a young Wisconsin team. After an impressive road sweep of fifth-ranked North Dakota with a 4-1 victory at Ralph Engelstad Arena, he knows how much difference experience makes.
“This weekend was a measuring stick for us,” Eaves said. “Any time that you want to play at a championship level, you have to win two big games in a row.”
The Fighting Sioux skated 10 freshmen against Wisconsin’s six juniors and four seniors. Senior Andrew Joudrey scored one of Wisconsin’s three power play goals and senior Adam Burish added a shorthanded goal that gave the Badgers a 3-0 lead late in the first period.
“I’m really happy for our seniors because they’ve come full cycle,” Eave said. “When we were here four years ago, we were just embarrassed. North Dakota just took it to us the second night, taught us a lesson about how hard you need to play at this level. And so for them to come back in their senior year and have the success they had this week is very satisfying for them.”
After being defeated 4-2 Friday, the Sioux knew they needed to get some points at home from the league-leading Badgers. But that possibility was dealt a severe blow when almost half way through the first period when Sioux captain Matt Smaby was called for checking Robbie Earl from behind.
The junior defenseman – UND’s most experienced blueliner – was assessed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct.
“With a fairly young D-corps, you take out a fairly experience leader back on the blue line, I’d say it has a large impact,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol.
It took the Badgers just over a minute to cash in on the power play. Junior center Jake Dowell passed up the slot to MacMurchy who fired the shot past Sioux goalie Jordan Parise at 10:40 to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
With the major penalty still in effect and the teams skating 4-on-3, the Wisconsin power play struck paydirt again. At 13:22, defenseman Jeff Likens hit junior forward Andrew Joudrey with a cross-ice pass from the right point that he fired past Parise from the bottom of the left circle, giving the Badgers a 2-0 lead.
Wisconsin then got into penalty trouble and, shortly after killing off a Sioux 5-on-3 power play, Badgers senior forward Adam Burish intercepted a cross-ice pass and went in alone on Parise for a short-handed goal with 1:34 left in the period.
The Sioux got on the board at 19:09 with a power play goal by junior forward Chris Porter. Goalie Brian Elliott couldn’t control defenseman Kyle Radke’s shot from the point. Porter got his stick on the puck and put a backhander past Elliot to make it a 3-1 game at the end of the first period.
Elliott, who was outstanding in both games, improved his record to 8-0-1 and has yet to give up more than two goals in any of the 13 games he’s started during his career with the Badgers.
“He played great all weekend and we couldn’t seem to buy a break to get it past him,” Porter said.
Wisconsin added to its lead at 9:38 of the second period with its third power play goal of the game. Freshman forward Jack Skille fired a shot from the slot that was partially blocked by the Sioux defense and that broke his stick. However, Parise lost track of the puck when the blooper went up in the air, over his shoulder and fell across the goal line behind him.
At 13:48, the Sioux lost a second defenseman for a key portion of the game. After freshman Taylor Chorney was called for roughing, he was also given a 10-minute game misconduct. That kept him in the penalty box until well into the third period, which further increased the load on UND’s young defensive corps in Smaby’s absence.
“It wore their D-men down. You could see that completely,” Burish said. “They had trouble getting to the bench. You’d skate by their bench and see them sucking for air. That just hurt them. Guys kind of smell blood then. Guys on the bench were saying, ‘Keep finishing your checks on the D-men. Keep wearing them down.’
“At the end of the game, you could see that they were struggling to get back and get pucks,” he said. “We just kept putting pucks behind them and making them skate to go get it.”
Wisconsin outshot UND 46-27 and without several big stops by Parise who made a career high 42 saves, the Badgers’ margin of victory could have been much greater.
Wisconsin improved its record to 6-1-1 and 5-0-1 in league play. The Sioux, who have lost three straight home games to WCHA opponents, fell to 5-4-1 overall and 1-3-0 in the league.
Despite being swept at home by Wisconsin for the first time since 1996, Hakstol remained optimistic about the improvement made by his young team.
“I don’t think we were all that far away,” Hakstol said of his team’s performance. “It’s not where we’re at as a team Nov. 5. It’s going to be where we’re at as a team come February and March. We’ve taken a lot of steps in the right direction.”
Porter agreed with his coach and said, “We obviously have things we need to improve on, but I don’t think we need to hit the panic button yet. We’re fine. We’re learning as we go along. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
The Badgers are at home for a two-game series against Colorado College Nov. 11-12. UND travels to Minnesota-Duluth for a two-game series against the Bulldogs Nov. 11-12.