ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — Before the puck dropped between Northern Michigan and Wisconsin Saturday night, UW head coach Mike Eaves gave Brian Elliott the night off to rest up and give his backup, sophomore Shane Connelly, some ice time.
Evidently, Wisconsin’s offense decided to take most of the night off too.
However, the Badgers woke up just in the nick of time.
After being down two goals late in third period, Wisconsin came charging back to score a power-play and a shorthanded goal in the final three minutes to steal a point from Northern Michigan, earning a 3-3 tie.
With the Badgers down, 3-1, NMU senior Dusty Collins was whistled for hooking Badger Jack Skille, which sent Wisconsin to the power play with just under four minutes to go. Just one minute into the power play, UW freshman Jamie McBain fired a shot that deflected off an NMU defenseman, off Badger Jake Dowell’s facemask and into the back of the net to cut the Wisconsin deficit to one. It was Dowell’s second goal of the night and 25th of his career
“I’ll take them any way I can get them to help this team win games,” Dowell said.
With Northern Michigan on the power play with less than two minutes to go, Wisconsin received a gift from one of NMU’s inexperienced players. Sophomore defenseman Derek May’s zone entry pass was intercepted by Badger Ross Carlson, who found a wide open Davis Drewiske streaking towards the Northern Michigan net. Drewski buried the puck past NMU goalie Bill Zaniboni to bring the game to an improbable tie.
“We made a bad mistake on the power play where we turned it over and they got a shorthanded goal on it,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “Nothing changed from last night. They are still one of the best teams in country and we played them [tough].”
Things looked brighter at the beginning of the game for Northern Michigan, as senior center Darin Olver put his team on the board first by blasting a shot from the point that got past Connelly. NMU struck again six minutes later, with junior Mike Santorelli corralling a deflection and beating the goaltender on the low side to push the NMU lead to 2-0.
“We finally started playing like we know we can,” Kyle said.
Much like the night before, Wisconsin shook its first period rust off and found a way to get the puck past Zaniboni.
With Matt Maunu whistled for obstruction tripping at 12:07, the Badgers had their scoring window. Despite whiffing on a rebound surrendered by Zaniboni, Dowell hit the puck with his forearm on his follow-through, knocking the puck into the net.
Despite plenty of opportunities to tie the score in the third, the Badgers could not get the puck on the net early. Shots from Wisconsin’s veterans and youngsters either sailed wide, high or were deflected just enough by Zaniboni and his defensemen. Zaniboni played solid the entire night, but defensive mistakes caused him to give up the late goals.
“He had a lot of big saves, kept us in the game and I was really happy with how he played all weekend,” Kyle said.
Wisconsin didn’t quit, however, as the Badgers tried to regain some of the magic that had propelled them late in games over the last two seasons. According to UW head coach Mike Eaves, all it took was getting back to the basics that won his team a championship a year ago.
“They simplified it, got back to the basics, started winning some more puck battles, got the pucks to the net and as a result, gave ourselves a chance to get back in the game,” Eaves said.
Despite the fact that Northern Michigan had a two-goal advantage late in the game, NMU committed nine penalties, which led to two UW power-play goals; were ineffective on the power play; and forced the inexperienced Connolly to make only 11 saves. Dating back to last season, the Badgers have killed off 43 straight power plays.
“That’s a big part of the game not to get penalties,” senior Dusty Collins said. “Everybody knows we have an older team and the seniors need to take responsibility to correct those mistakes.”
Eaves also stated that Wisconsin has a ‘grocery cart’ of things they need to fix by next weekend but gave Northern Michigan credit for coming out with the fire in the opening period.
“They came out with a fire in the step in their game and we got behind and it became our challenge to meet their will,” Eaves added. “I think our kids did that and because of that fact, it becomes an important measuring stick for us as a team.”
Northern Michigan continues its non-conference season with a home-and-home series against fellow Upper Peninsula neighbor and arch-rival Michigan Tech.
The Badgers return home to the Kohl Center to raise their 2006 championship banner and begin their conference season against North Dakota.