MADISON, Wis. — For whatever the reason, the first period doesn’t sit well for Wisconsin when it comes to generating offensive momentum.
A potential explanation? The Badgers would much rather do their dirty work with the seconds ticking down and their backs against the wall.
After being out-skated in the first 40 minutes Friday night, Wisconsin, for the second consecutive game, found its poise and aggressiveness in the final period, scoring twice in the final frame to steal a victory from St. Cloud State, winning 3-2.
Just like in last Saturday’s contest against Michigan State, scoring two goals in a three minute span in the third to salvage a 4-4 tie, Wisconsin found its fire in the final frame, scoring a pair of goals the unconventional way.
Down one tally to begin the period, Wisconsin (6-6-1, 3-4-0 WCHA) scored its first off-the-cuff goal falling down. Sophomore Blake Geoffrion, bringing the puck up into the Huskies zone, was caught in between reading his wingers and shooting the puck, which ended up costing him his footing. That didn’t stop the sophomore from getting a stick on the puck and firing a shot that snuck its way past St. Cloud goalie Jase Weslosky to tie the game.
“He tried to pivot and do his pirouette and either caught an edge or a sniper got him,” Eaves said. “As he was going down, he just threw it at the net and it was a perfect shot, going above his pad, underneath his blocker, off the post and in.”
Six minutes later, assistant captain Ben Street got his stick on a Kyle Turris slap shot, dramatically deflecting the puck from its flight and causing Weslosky to be out of position and, as a result, let the winning goal sneak by him.
In 13 games this season, Wisconsin has scored 26 third period goals, none of them bigger than Street’s as it ended Wisconsins five game winless streak.
“It was a pretty fortunate play,” Street admitted. “I had an idea that when (Turris) shot it that the goalie would be moving from side-to-side and if I got a stick on it, we’d get lucky. I tipped about 50 pucks in morning skate, so I don’t know if that helped. It was definitely a fortunate play.”
The defeat was a bitter bill to swallow for the Huskies, who struggled offensively the whole night despite the early lead. Averaging over 27 shots entering the series, the Huskies only managed to fire 24 on goal, 16 of which came in the final period.
“We had eight shots after two periods and that doesn’t cut it,” St. Cloud head coach Bob Motzko said. “We have to score a third goal. You’re up two (goals) early on the road, they’re going to get back in there.
“We played a nice game, but nice doesn’t cut it in the WCHA.”
From the start, however, it looked like the Huskies were going to break their 11 game winless streak against the Badgers.
As one of the nation’s best first period teams, scoring 17 of its 45 goals in the game’s opening minutes, St. Cloud State (7-4-2, 3-3-1 WCHA) added another impressive performance to its first period resume by utilizing its best offensive weapon: special teams.
Converting on a league-best 24 percent of their man advantages, freshman Garrett Roe took advantage of a Wisconsin hooking penalty four minutes into the contest. Faking pass, Roe fired off a quick slap shot that beat UW goalie Shane Connelly glove side, drawing first blood for the visitors.
Wisconsin looked to jump right back into the fray with a power play opportunity 10 minutes later. But instead of tying the score and waking up the stagnate home crowd, Wisconsin gave the boost to St. Cloud, voiding the chance to regain momentum.
With UW on the man advantage, freshman defenseman Brendan Smith slipped, allowing forward Matt Hartman to take the puck coast-to-coast, beating Connelly on the one-timer.
When the period came to the close, Wisconsin had the advantage in nearly every offensive category and limited the Huskies to just four shots. But the lack of fire and passive aggressiveness saw two of those four shots find the back of the Wisconsin net.
“When you have a terrific week of practice and good tempo, how do explain that start, which looked like we were skating in quicksand for heaven’s sake?” Eaves queried. “Whatever happened between the first and second was a bit of an emotional talk from the coaches about getting our energy going.”
That fire was ignited to begin the second frame when sophomore Ben Grotting ” who Eaves said was the most consistent forward through the team’s first 12 games ” delivered a stellar no-look, wrap-around pass to a wide open John Mitchell, who one-timed the biscuit top shelf to beat goalie Jase Weslosky, cutting the lead in half.
“Ben Grotting’s game can be described in a couple sentences,” Eaves said. “The biggest thing is he goes out and plays and he doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He’s playing to his strengths, he’s keeping things simple and as a result to that, he’s not being a great hockey player, he’s being a very effective hockey player.”
But that fire, for whatever reason, couldn’t be maintained by the Badgers, as Wisconsin regressed to its first period inconsistencies and failed to create any decent scoring opportunities to go into the second intermission down one.
All that became a mute point, as the Badgers are developing a knack for late-game heroics. For a team consisting of 17 freshmen and sophomores, the Badgers are developing some resiliency, a key component for a team still finding its way.
“There’s no quit in this team for sure,” said Street, who has scored in six of UW’s 13 games this season. “Whether it’s a lead, a tie or behind, we know we’re going to play in all 60 minutes and all 20 in the third.
It’s a good step in the right direction when we came back against Michigan and then to come back against Michigan State. We just continue to do that. It would be nice to get a few early and start playing with a lead, but it does bode well for this team that we don’t quit all the way through.”
St. Cloud State and Wisconsin complete the two game series tomorrow with a 7:07 CDT face off at the Kohl Center.