MADISON, Wis. — Jake Dowell had been in a slump to begin the season, to say the least, but he found a way to break it Sunday night at just the right time for Wisconsin, netting the game-winner in a 3-2 Badger victory over Minnesota State.
It was sweet redemption for a Badger line that sat for the latter part of the second period because UW head coach Mike Eaves didn’t feel Dowell, Ryan MacMurchy and Matthew Ford were playing as well as they could.
They got back into the game in the third and showed what they can do.
“I give them full credit. They went in the locker room between the second and third, they rode the bike, they got themselves ready, they went out and scored a big goal,” said Eaves. “It was a really mature effort by those young men.”
Up 2-1 early in the third period, MacMurchy skated around the back of the net and out to the left side. He flung the puck towards the crease and it found its way through to Dowell on the right side.
The junior winger put it in the empty right side of the net to put the Badgers up two goals.
After fielding questions this week about his slump, Dowell finally got the break he needed.
“I’ve just been telling people that other people have been scoring and we’ve been winning and that’s fine and I had a feeling I’d get that first goal when we really needed it and that’s what happened,” Dowell said.
Of course, he didn’t know it would turn out to be the game-winning tally, but as the Mavericks found some much-needed offense in the third period, they got the game back to a one-goal difference.
UW goalie Brian Elliott and the Badgers held on for another victory to bring their unbeaten streak to 10 games to open league play.
“I think they’re probably, in a lot of ways, as good as it gets, especially defensively,” MSU head coach Troy Jutting said. “I knew they were good, [but] I’m more impressed than I thought I would be.”
Yet again, it was the Badgers putting the pressure on early in the game. They outshot the Mavericks 11-2 over the first 20 minutes and jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Ford.
Ford collected the puck in the right circle and was pressured by MSU defenseman Brian Kilburg. The sophomore winger slung a simple shot from the right side of the net.
Somehow the puck found its way under the right arm of the freshman goalie and slowly spun and slid into the goal, giving Ford his second tally of the year and UW the 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t that they weren’t getting their shots — the Mavericks actually attempted more shots in the period, launching 22 to the Badgers’ 18 — but Wisconsin blocked 12 shots in the opening stanza.
“They’re a great team at getting in front of the puck,” Jutting said. “They do a lot of good things defensively, but they’re as good a team as getting their sticks and getting their bodies in front of shots as I’ve seen. It’s very frustrating, they’re great at it.”
Minnesota State’s David Backes knotted the score at 1-1 with a goal three minutes into the second period on a Maverick power play.
Backes skated the puck into the left circle and lifted a backhand shot near-side over Elliott’s blocker for the equalizer.
But the Badgers regained the lead midway through the period with an extra attacker on the ice. Freshman Ben Street took off from the bench as Elliott left the ice on the delayed penalty call.
Tom Gilbert held the zone, getting the puck to Joe Pavelski, who had the presence of mind to know that Street was coming. Pavelski made a nifty, no-look pass to the streaking Street in the left circle.
“Good hockey players know that, they see that. They know what they’re going to do before they get the puck,” Eaves said of Pavelski’s play.
The rookie skated in with the puck, then pulled it across before lifting a backhand over the leg of Tormey to make it 2-1.
Pavelski finished the weekend with three points.
The Mavericks got a few more shots through to Elliott through in the second, but were still outshot 13-7 in the period.
They picked up their tempo and even had the Badgers on their heels during stretches in the third, as the two teams traded goals yet again.
The Mavericks wanted to pressure the Badgers over the final 1:30 of the game, and were looking to get Tormey off the ice, but they could not get anything set up in their offensive zone and Wisconsin held on.
The sweep gave the Badgers a four-point lead over Minnesota in the WCHA, and their 8-0-2 start marks the second-longest unbeaten streak to open a season. Colorado College opened its campaign 9-0-2 in 2002-03.
Wisconsin is the only remaining team in the country which is unbeaten in league play and Elliott extended his streak of holding teams to two goals or less to 16 straight starts.
The Mavericks played another very strong series this weekend in front of their freshman goalie Tormey, who made 31 saves both nights. Yet, even when the Badgers weren’t playing their strongest hockey, they made it work and skated away with four points.
“I think that says a lot about us that even when we’re not playing our best hockey, we’re still finding ways to win and I think that says a lot about the character of our team,” Dowell said.
Wisconsin takes to the road for the College Hockey Showcase next weekend, taking on Michigan State Friday, leading up to what should be a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 when it faces Michigan Saturday night.
Minnesota State takes on Nebraska-Omaha in a rare Tuesday game this week.