MADISON, Wis. — After five months of hockey, the defending national champions finally were able to register a sweep at home.
It may seem hard to believe to the college hockey world, but with Wisconsin (13-15-2, 10-11-1 WCHA) getting only their second sweep of the season this late in the season, the Badgers have seemed to finally garner some momentum heading into the stretch run.
“There were a lot of messages this weekend, but we wanted to play on how we played last night hard, focused and consistent,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “There’s a satisfaction that we worked hard, did our part and accomplished what we needed to have done.”
A variety of factors went into Wisconsin’s first home sweep of the season, but the main reason was the offense of Wisconsin’s defense and the brick wall known as Badger goalie Brian Elliott.
Wisconsin’s defense, which had scored only five goals in their last 29 games, scored seven points on the weekend, including two big goals Saturday night, while Elliott stopped 39 of 40 shots that he faced in the series.
“I thought in the first period when we were back on our heels that [Elliott] was pretty good for us and made some big saves,” Eaves said. “We’ve been encouraging our defensemen to get in the gaps and support the rush and they had a big weekend.”
The Badgers were also given plenty of scoring chances on the man advantage. A night after giving Wisconsin nine power play opportunities, Anchorage (11-16-3, 7-16-1 WCHA) gave the Badgers six more chances with an extra attacker.
With their 15 opportunities on the weekend, Wisconsin scored two goals, the most they have scored in a series in three weeks.
“We feel pretty good about [the power play],” defenseman Jamie McBain said. “We’re working on it in practice and we feel we are generating offense through the power play, even though we aren’t scoring a lot of goals.”
“We couldn’t adjust to the way the game was called,” UAA head coach Dave Shyiak added. “I thought we had some good clean hits out there and couldn’t adjust. When you end up in the box as much as we do, we can’t compensate for that.”
In addition to their defense, the most important factor for the Badgers this weekend was being the first ones on the scoreboard, something they were able to accomplish in both games of the series.
With both teams playing four-on-four hockey, defenseman Davis Drewiske, with Anchorage’s Mark Smith putting pressure on, skated into the offensive zone and was looking to center the puck.
Drewiske got more than he bargained for, as his centering pass went off UAA Nils Backstrom’s stick and into the net for the early goal.
With under a minute left in the second and the Seawolves threatening, sophomore Ben Street was looking to simply clear the zone when he saw Tom Gorowsky all alone and breaking towards the Anchorage net. Street delivered a perfect pass between two UAA players that hit Gorowsky right on his stick.
Alone on the breakaway, Gorowsky buried the puck on goalie Nathan Lawson’s stick side, doubling the Badgers’ lead with 24 seconds left in the period.
“Their second goal deflated us a little bit,” Shyiak said. “We had a bad line change and it turned into a breakaway goal.”
“I was lucky that I had a step on the guy and get a good shot off,” Gorowsky added. “He was cheating a little bit and the lower right looked good. I just went for it and it went it.”
Gorowsky, who did not play in game one of the series and had done little offensively in Wisconsin’s last seven games, was inserted into the lineup when forward Matthew Ford was injured in a pre-game workout and didn’t receive clearance from team doctors to suit up. With Gorowsky having had repetitions from Ford’s possession in practice, he was the obvious choice to start in his place and he ended up paying dividends for the Badgers.
“Every time you are not in the lineup, you are itching to get in there and you have to keep yourself ready no matter what,” Gorowsky said. “I just try to control things I can, work hard and try to impress coach enough to play.”
Even Wisconsin’s power play, which has scored only two goals in its last 33 attempts, was able to find some success. Off the opening face-off of a Wisconsin power play, senior Ross Carlson fired a shot from the opposite face-off circle that deflected right off forward Michael Davies’s stick. The puck veered right to McBain, who caught Lawson out of possession and scored his third goal of the season with a wide-open net.
UAA was unable to evade their second straight shutout at the hands of Wisconsin when assistant captain Justin Bourne fired a shot that snuck under Elliott’s glove – about the only mistake the senior goalie made all weekend – that gave Bourne his ninth goal and team-leading 28th point of the season.
Unfortunately for Anchorage, that’s a close as they could get to the Badgers all weekend. Although the Seawolves leave Madison on a four-game losing streak, Shyiak maintains that the team effort is there but not the points.
“We’re a little snake-bitten right now and the puck didn’t go in for us,” Shyiak said. “Our effort is there. The important thing is we need to stay positive and keep doing the things that we are doing well.”
Both teams play their regular season home finale next weekend with UAA hosting Minnesota State and the Badgers playing St. Cloud State for the first time this season.