MADISON, Wis. — It was No. 1 against No. 5 so something had to give Friday night, right? Yet after the dust settled on a high energy, up-tempo affair, top-ranked Colorado College and Wisconsin had skated their way to a 2-2 draw at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott entered the game with a 12-game streak of holding opponents to two goals or less, but it looked like that streak would end as he gave up two in the first period alone.
But while his team had the early momentum, Colorado College head coach Scott Owens thought it was a little too early to have a two-goal lead.
In the end, Owens was right in being worried about the early lead, as the Badgers picked up the pace in the final two periods and Elliott extended his streak to snag one league point.
“I don’t think we were as good tonight as we were last weekend in many areas,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said.
“It wasn’t pretty, but it was a good point for us,” Owens said. “I was very impressed with their team.”
The nation’s leading scorer Brett Sterling put the Tigers on the board 11 minutes into the first period on a goal that Elliott would love to have back. Sterling skated in from the left side and snapped a simple shot at the goalie. Somehow the puck squirted through his feet and into the net to give Colorado College the lead.
The bounces tend to go that way for a goal-scorer like Sterling, but Elliott still doesn’t know how the puck got by him.
“That’s the best pure scorer in the last 10 years in this league,” Owens said. “Give him a little credit too.”
The Tigers doubled their lead five minutes later, this time with a great shot from Joey Crabb. The senior skated in from the right side and flicked a nifty backhand shot top shelf over the glove of Elliott.
Colorado College nearly made it a three-goal lead on a power play late in the period, but this time the bounce didn’t go Sterling’s way as his shot went off the post.
Instead the momentum swung the other way. As the time expired on that penalty, the Badgers cut the deficit in half.
Tom Gilbert exited the penalty box at just the right time as UW forward Jake Dowell found him with a floating pass from the Badger zone to neutral ice. Gilbert controlled the bouncing puck, skated in all alone and beat Matt Zaba five-hole to cut the deficit in half, giving Wisconsin a much needed boost with 1:04 left in the period.
“You talk about turning points in the game and that was one of them,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “3-0 versus 2-1 I know what I would like. That was a swing point.”
“It gave them some life going into the [second] period and it deflated us a little bit,” Owens said.
The Badger defense gave Elliott a hand in the second period as the goalie had to make just six saves. He also got help from the offense, as freshman Jack Skille tied the game late in the stanza.
Ross Carlson made a solid play to steal the puck in the offensive zone and then found Skille with a seeing-eye pass through traffic in the slot. Skille, falling backwards, lifted the puck up in the air and into the goal for the Badger equalizer with 2:30 remaining.
It was the freshman’s fifth goal of the season, tying him for the team lead through 11 games.
“My goal was to come in and just play my role,” a modest Skille said. “I guess I’m lucky to have these goals.”
The Badgers picked up the tempo and outshot the Tigers 12-6 in a much more physical second period.
“I think everybody settled down after that first period,” Elliott said. “I was seeing the puck a little better and being more patient.”
The physical play continued into the third and it was easy to see both teams wearing down a bit deep into the game. The result was a scoreless third period that saw just six shots on goal for each team.
“A positive part about this is the second and third period we played really well and we can take that into tomorrow,” Gilbert said.
“I think we possibly could’ve won that game in the third but we certainly could’ve lost it down the stretch,” Owens said.
The Badgers outshot the Tigers 4-0 in the extra five minutes, but Zaba stood tall, making 31 saves on the night. On the other end, Elliott needed to make just 12 saves over the final 45 minutes, finishing with 19 overall.
“We limited them, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time,” Eaves said. “I would give us the edge in scoring chances just as a feel, but they had their chances as well.”
Badger winger Robbie Earl had the best chance of overtime as he skated in on Zaba but was knocked down from behind with about 30 seconds remaining.
The Badger fans 13,817 strong wanted the penalty, but referee Brad Albers, who had been quiet all night, let that play go.
Albers called just 10 penalties all night five on each team resulting in just three power plays for each side.
“There were calls that could’ve been made either way, but the fact that he was consistent and did not dictate the outcome of the game was a positive,” Owens said.
Eaves declined to comment on the officiating.
Owens was happy to get the point on the road against Wisconsin, but in the other locker room, the Badgers seemed a bit disappointed.
The tie did stretch Wisconsin’s WCHA unbeaten streak to seven games and kept it three points ahead of CC and Minnesota in the league standings.
The two teams square off again tomorrow night as the question still remains: Is something finally going to give between these two teams?