DULUTH, Minn. — Brett Hull wasn’t available for duty Friday night at the DECC.
But the former Minnesota Duluth right winger was at the rink, to have his No. 29 retired, and gave the Bulldogs a brief pep talk after the first period. He asked the home team to take care of the Badgers.
Easier said than done.
No. 1-ranked Wisconsin broke a four-game losing streak by defeating UMD, 7-2, in a WCHA game before a soldout crowd of 5,315.
The Badgers (19-6-2, 14-5-2) regained first place in the league, two points ahead of idle Minnesota and Denver, and remained unbeaten on the road this season at 10-0-1.
UMD (8-17-4, 5-13-3) has lost seven straight games, nine in a row in the league at home, and has allowed 25 goals the past four games.
Yet, UMD showed spark for much of the game, especially in the second period while outshooting Wisconsin, 18-11, and brought the score to 4-2 with less than nine minutes to play.
“The second period was one of our better periods in a long time, we seemed to have some jump. We haven’t been like that since Christmas,” said UMD freshman winger Nick Kemp, who had a goal. “The effort was there and we had our chances, but Wisconsin played well. It wasn’t a 7-2 game.”
Wisconsin never trailed, but wasn’t comfortable until scoring three third-period goals, two by freshman center Ben Street, who also had an assist.
Badger freshman goalie Shane Connelly earned his first collegiate win with 28 saves. He had suffered four straight losses while filling in for injured star Brian Elliott as the Badgers lost consecutive home series to Denver and Minnesota. Those losses, though, weren’t anything to be embarrassed about, said the Badgers.
“Shane was making big-time stops in those games, we just couldn’t score,” said Wisconsin junior winger Ross Carlson of Duluth, Minn., who had a goal and an assist. “We need to have heart in front of the net and bury rebounds. That’s what we did tonight.”
Junior Josh Johnson, in his first start since Dec. 16 in a 4-2 loss to Denver, had 25 saves. Wisconsin outshot UMD, 32-30.
UMD suffered a blow just six minutes into the game when leading goal-scorer Michael Gergen was lost to a checking-from-behind major penalty.
Three minutes later, Wisconsin defenseman Tom Gilbert converted a rebound on a 4-on-4 shift. UMD freshman center MacGregor Sharp responded by tipping a Jason Garrison point drive with 8:02 left to make it 1-1.
Forty-seven seconds later, center Andrew Joudrey smashed in a shot from crease and the Badgers had the lead for good.
While UMD had the better of play in the second period, the Badgers led, 2-1, in goals to go up, 4-2.
Robbie Earl tied for Wisconsin’s goal-scoring lead with his 14th goal at 4:39 and Kemp countered 24 seconds later on a deflection in the slot. Carlson’s 25th career goal, the second-most among Duluthians to play for the Badgers, came from in front of the net with 4:52 left in the period.
“If you look at the score you’d say we got our butts kicked, but we didn’t,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We had a good second period, and even our first period wasn’t bad. But we gave up three or four bad goals. Their fourth goal (by Carlson) killed us. It was a backbreaker.”
Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves didn’t like what he saw in the second period and changed his lines for the final 20 minutes. An experienced Wisconsin team, with 11 juniors and seniors, outscored a young UMD team, with 10 freshmen, 3-0, including goals 52 seconds apart by Adam Burish and freshman Ben Street.
“After the second period I said `Let’s see if we can settle ourselves down,”’ said Eaves.
Part of UMD’s inspiration may have come after the first period, as the Bulldogs watched from their bench as Hull’s No. 29 jersey was retired. He became only the second UMD male athlete to be accorded that honor. The former offensive star played two seasons with the Bulldogs (1984-86) and went on to 20 years in the NHL, scoring 741 goals, the third most in league history before retiring in November.
His No. 29 was raised to the rafters to join the No. 9 of Keith “Huffer” Christiansen, a Fort Frances, Ontario, native living in Duluth, who was a centerman from 1963-67. His number was retired in 1988.