GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Call it a tale of two teams with fortunes that appear to be heading in opposite directions.
After losing six straight with key players out of the lineup, Wisconsin has now won two in a row with a 4-3 victory at Ralph Engelstad Arena over WCHA opponent North Dakota.
The loss dropped UND to sixth place in the WCHA with a 5-5-1 conference record (7-7-1 overall). Wisconsin moved up to seventh place at 4-6-1 (6-9-2 overall).
With both teams getting players back from injuries, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol were hoping for turnarounds. Behind a three-goal second period, the Badgers got it while Sioux frustration with inconsistency continued.
“We’ve actually played better and lost,” Eaves said. “Tonight, we could play better when we needed to and we come out with a win.”
“There’s a potential there for both teams to be pretty good hockey teams,” Hakstol said. “We certainly have the potential to be a good team, but potential is not what we’re looking for. Potential doesn’t win games.”
UND struck first with a power-play goal at 12:19 goal of the first period. Goalie Brian Elliott stopped defenseman Taylor Chorney’s shot from the point, but sophomore forward Ryan Duncan knocked in the rebound from the right side of the crease.
Wisconsin needed less than a minute to respond with an even-strength goal at 13:10. The Badgers used tenacious forechecking to keep the Sioux trapped in their zone. Goalie Philippe Lamoureux stopped two shots before senior center Andrew Joudrey came up with the loose puck in the slot and shot it in.
Despite UND’s 18-10 advantage in shots on goal, the opening period ended 1-1. The second period was a complete reversal with the Sioux being outshot 12-4 and outscored 3-1.
With Wisconsin on the power play, Lamoureux appeared to stop a shot from the right point by defenseman Jamie McBain. However, the puck trickled through to give the Badgers a 2-1 lead at 4:18.
The Sioux didn’t register a shot on goal until more than halfway through the period, but they made it count. Duncan picked up his second goal of the game by tipping defenseman Robbie Bina’s shot past Elliott at 9:24. It was his team-leading 11th goal of the season.
But then the roof fell in on UND, silencing the home crowd of 11,311 fans. Wisconsin senior forward Jake Dowell capitalized on a three-on-one rush by sniping the top corner on Lamoureux’s glove side to put the Badgers up 3-2 at the 17:26 mark.
“I’m yelling, ‘Pass the puck! Pass the puck!’ And he shoots,” Eaves laughed. “‘Good shot! Good shot!’ So, see what I know?”
Wisconsin struck again with 1:01 left in the period. Forward Jack Skille fought off a check along the boards and threw a centering pass toward junior forward Matthew Ford. He found himself alone in front of Lamoureux and pounded in the puck to give the Badgers a decisive 4-2 lead.
For a team that has struggled to score, Eaves was impressed with Ford’s effort.
“He was down on the ice, the puck is going toward the net and he somehow finds a way to get his stick on it,” he said. “That’s making something out of nothing. That’s a little bit of magic.”
For the Fighting Sioux, who have now been outscored 26-14 in the second period, it’s a return to the season-long problem of figuring out how to play a complete game for a full 60 minutes.
Asked if he’d preferred to skip the second period, Hakstol’s sharp retort was: “No. There’s three periods in a game, so we’ve got to figure out how to play the damn thing.”
UND freshman Anthony Grieco replaced Lamoureux in the third period after giving up four goals on 22 shots. A power-play goal by UND defenseman Chay Genoway at 11:42 made it a 4-3 game, but Elliot gave up nothing after that, even when the Sioux pulled their goalie with 56 seconds remaining.
Of Elliott’s play, Eaves said it was typical of how he’s played all season long, even during the losing streak. “Brian was excellent,” he said.
Dowell said the best way for Wisconsin to generate more offense is for more players to show up on the score sheet.
“For us to come out and have four different players score, that’s awesome for us,” he said. “That’s what our goal has been to do, to win and score by committee instead of having one or two guys. We had one line that scored a lot last year. We’re going to need to be a team that spreads it (the scoring) out.”
“We played a pretty good first period and a pretty good third period,” Hakstol said. “But it’s a 60-minute game. I’m not happy with our team at all right now.”
From a player’s perspective, Duncan said UND needs to find a way to play at a high level each game.
“Every team has their own different way of getting out of the funk they’re in,” he said. “I still think our team has a lot of potential, but we’re having one or two mistakes that are costing us the entire game. We’re saying the same thing every night, so we’ve got to find a way to correct it.”
Wisconsin and UND will meet Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. in Engelstad Arena for the second game of the series.