MADISON, Wis. — With UW sophomore Jack Skille, junior Kyle Klubertanz and senior Ross Carlson not suiting up because of injuries sustained in Friday’s game against North Dakota, it meant that the Badgers would be playing one of the top teams in the WCHA without their top eight scorers from last year’s championship team.
But Wisconsin still had its ninth-best scorer, and he made his presence known.
Senior Jake Dowell forced a North Dakota turnover in the Sioux zone and knocked in the rebound for the only goal of the night as the Badgers salvaged a split by beating the No. 5 Fighting Sioux, 1-0.
Eight minutes into the third period in a scoreless game, Dowell’s pressure and persistence paid off as he forced the puck away from UND defenseman Joe Finley. The puck went right to UW captain Andrew Joudrey, who fired an uncontested shot at goalie Philippe Lamoureux. Lamoureux was unable to contain the puck and a melee ensued. The ruckus ended with Dowell finishing what he started, knocking the puck in from just beyond the crease for the winning and only tally.
“We were looking to make a spark,” Dowell said. ‘What we were trying to do all game was try to keep our hits up, try to wear them down and cause a turnover. It just happened to be that time and Joudrey picked up the pick and I just trailed in.”
The Badgers, who felt like they were embarrassed in a season-opening loss the night before, talked all day about getting a fast start. Although the execution was lacking at times, the Badgers were fighting for loose pucks more, blocking more shots and delivering hard checks to the Sioux players.
“We responded tremendously [in the first],” Eaves said. “There was a lot of discussion about being one-stick length of our opponent. We didn’t finish plays last night and we did that tonight.”
The struggles still continued for the Badgers in the first period, however, with Wisconsin not registering a goal in the first 20 minutes for the fourth consecutive game and managing only three shots on Lamoureux — none of which could be qualified as quality attempts.
Still, North Dakota didn’t take advantage, as the Sioux, much like the Badgers the night before, came out flat on their skates.
“They were a hungry team [in the first],” North Dakota assistant captain Erik Fabian said. “We came out flat and give them credit. They got a fast start and talked about the start all day today. We didn’t listen and they came out and made a push right away.”
North Dakota got its energy back in the second and thought it had drawn first blood. On a three-on-two break, sophomore T.J. Oshie drilled a shot from the left faceoff circled that nailed the right crossbar. Unfortunately for Oshie, he hit the bar straight on, causing the puck to bounce straight back to Elliott, who fell on it before it trickled across the goal line.
It was the closest all night the Sioux were to getting the puck past Elliott, who registered his 13th career shutout.
“Last night we got into [Elliott] and got into his face,” Fabian said. “We crashed the net really hard and tonight, we didn’t do that. We let him see every shot.”
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves thought the Badgers would be in dire straits without Elliott and his defensemen keeping Wisconsin close.
“He’s given us a chance,” Eaves said. “With the goaltending that we have and the veteran defense, [they] give us a chance to be competitive every game, even with the type of young lineup that we have. We played the exact game that we needed to play to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Wisconsin was behind the proverbial eight-ball before the game even started as Skille (right elbow), Klubertanz (lower body) and Carlson (right knee) did not suit up for the Badgers. That forced Wisconsin to suit up two more freshmen, making seven rookies on the ice for the Badgers.
With such a young team, Dowell knows that Wisconsin can ill afford to make sloppy mistakes against talented teams.
“We have guys that have the ability to make the highlight-reel goals,” Dowell said. “We lost two of those guys last year and two of them last night. Those plays aren’t as likely and are not going to happen as often. Our identity as a team is to be able to play hard and get pucks on net.”
Regardless, all of Wisconsin’s injury and rotation problems became a moot point when Dowell registered his third goal of the year. Ninth on the team in points last year, Dowell leads the Badgers in points this season.
Although that could be expected from the senior assistant captain, Eaves attributes Dowell’s play to taking on a bigger leadership role with the team and making the younger players follow his lead.
“Jack’s play tonight has been indicative on how he’s came back and played at a higher level all year,” Eaves said. “There’s something extra in his step and a purpose. He has done a nice job in not only taking his game to the next level, but his teammates as well.”