MADISON, Wis. — After a Friday night contest that saw the Badgers squander their first lead going into the third period, UW head coach Mike Eaves vowed that the blown lead would serve as a valuable teaching point and that the Badgers would learn from their mistakes.
Going into Saturday night’s rematch with Minnesota-Duluth with the same one-goal lead, it was evident that the Badgers corrected their mistakes and learned how to shut the door on the opponent.
Senior Jake Dowell scored two third-period goals to help Wisconsin (3-1-2, 2-1-1 WCHA) rebound to win a hard-fought 5-2 decision against visiting Minnesota-Duluth (1-1-2, 0-1-1 WCHA) on the night wehn Wisconsin didn’t play some of its best hockey.
“On a night where UMD should have gotten some points and we didn’t have our ‘A’ game, we hung in there, struggled and found a way to get two points at home,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said.
After playing not to lose Friday night and blowing the one-goal lead, Wisconsin was determined not to let the Bulldogs sneak back into Saturday night’s contest, and the Badgers made their point clear early in the third.
Starting the period on back-to-back power plays, Dowell, the player the Badgers happily call the “garbageman,” lived up to his billing, cleaning up the mess in front of the net and shoving the puck past freshman Alex Stalock just two minutes in to increase the Badger lead to two.
Dowell wasn’t done on the night, flinging another rebound in just beyond the crease late in the third to give him his second multi-goal night and fifth of the season.
Being one of the few Badger seniors on the team, Dowell has noticeably increased the level of his play, matching his entire goal total from last season in just the team’s first six games.
“Jack is our poster child of our team identity,” Eaves said. “We don’t have that magic game-changing player anymore. In the NHL, 66 percent of the goals are rebound goals and we have to play that [percentage] more than any other team. It’s terrific that he is recognizing what is strengths are and that he’s doing those things to put himself in the position to score.”
Dowell was surprised by Eaves’ comments after the game, as he felt his physical attributes weren’t up to the task.
“It’s definitely not the looks,” Dowell joked. “I don’t mind getting in there and playing dirty and physical. Our identity is our hard work and it paid off [tonight].”
Still, the Badgers had their work cut out for them throughout the night with the Bulldogs showing more fight than the Badgers threw the first two periods.
The Bulldogs struck first against Wisconsin, which hadn’t allowed a first-period goal all season, and its penalty kill, which had only given up two power play goals in 26 opportunities. Sophomore Michael Gergen put a dent in that statistic, taking a perfect touch pass from line mate Andrew Carroll and shot it past UW goalie Brian Elliott for the early 1-0 advantage.
But for the first time all season, Wisconsin had an answer in the first period, thanks to a pair of crisp passing plays started by some of the Badgers youngest players. Playing at even strength, freshman John Mitchell found fellow freshman Ben Grotting camped out in front of the net. Grotting didn’t disappoint, tying the game with his first goal as a Badger.
“[The goal] felt great and it got our team going,” Grotting said. “I can describe the feeling in front of all those fans and get the first one out of the way.”
Just under two minutes later, Blake Geoffrion, one of the Badgers’ seven freshmen seeing ice time, found himself on a two-on-one break with linemate Ben Street trailing. Geoffrion made a perfect cross-ice pass that wound up on Street’s stick and quickly into the back of the goal for a 2-1 lead.
It was the first time all season Wisconsin had scored more than once heading into the third period, let alone twice in the first period, a period that had been 20 minutes of horror for the defending champions.
It was a disastrous five minutes for Duluth, which outplayed Wisconsin the entire period.
“We had five bad minutes in the first 40 minutes,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. “I could be disappointed if when we lose and didn’t play well, but I don’t think we played bad. There are things we need to get better at defensively but other than that, we played pretty good.”
While the Badgers escaped their first-period woes, the second period turned troublesome for Eaves’ crew, as they were outshot by the Bulldogs 15-5 in the second 20 minutes. More importantly for Duluth, the Bulldogs got another goal past their Badgers on their penalty kill, as captain Matt McKnight scored his first on the season to tie the score.
Although Wisconsin only had five shots, another one of Wisconsin’s freshmen, Jamie McBain, made his a good one, firing a shot in from the point in the final 12 seconds of the period to give the Badgers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. That proved the back-breaker for UMD.
“That goal at the end of the period certainly gave them an advantage,” Sandelin said. “I thought we played a pretty good hockey game. They had their opportunities and buried them. That was certainly the turning point of the game right there.”
Coming out for the third, the Badgers regained their swagger, piggybacking off Dowell’s two goals to earn a victory in which many of the Wisconsin players felt they had been outskated. Moreover, it was a special night for Dowell, as his father John was in attendance to watch his son play for the first time in over a year.
“It was definitely an awesome feeling getting to play in front of him,” Dowell said. “I saw him out there and knew exactly where he was. To be able to get those couple goals and have him see, I was trying extra hard tonight.”
Minnesota-Duluth returns home next weekend to host WCHA rival Denver (1-1-0 WCHA) while the Badgers take a week off from conference play to host Boston College in a rematch of last year’s national championship final.