MADISON, Wis. — When the Badgers have a converted defenseman score his second and third goals of his career, including the game-winner with three minutes left in the third period, to propel Wisconsin from a near loss, one could say that the Badgers were fortunate in the third period.
The way Wisconsin has played over the last couple weeks in the final frame, however, Saturday’s finish could only be labeled as routine.
Entering the third with a one-goal deficit, No.13 Wisconsin got an early goal from freshman Kyle Turris and senior Josh Engel delivered the game winner, his second of the night, as the Badgers come from behind in the final period for the third-consecutive game, stunning No.10 St. Cloud State 4-3, sweeping the two-game series.
Through 14 games this season, Wisconsin (7-6-1, 4-4-0 WCHA) has outscored its opponents 26-9 in the final frame, including 4-0 against the Huskies this weekend.
“We’ve shown resilience and shown our character by battling,” Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves said. “This is the period where you grow as a player and show your worth. What a nice growth for this group. This is how you build a bond with your teammates by going through a battle like this and become successful.”
After playing his three years as a sometimes seldom-used defenseman, Engel was converted to a forward for his senior year for the simple reason that the coaching staff wanted him on the ice. Figuring to be the seventh defenseman before the season, the coaching staff moved Engel to left wing on the second line, a decision that continues to provide dividends.
Scoring his first goal in the team’s opening game against Notre Dame and missing the next two weeks with a leg injury, Engel came back to score points in three of the next four games, but it was Saturday night that he became the star of the show.
With the game tied one minute and 39 seconds into the second period, Engel took advantage of one of the countless rebounds given up by Huskies’ goalie Jase Weslosky. With the puck loose right in front of the crease and Engel parked in front, the senior buried the opportunity to put Wisconsin back in front.
When the third period started with Wisconsin trailing, Turris broke a nine-game goal-less streak when he faked pass and fired a bullet that Weslosky had virtually no chance of stopping to quickly tie the score.
Fourteen minutes later, Engel tallied his second of the night when linemate Blake Geoffrion fired a one-timer from the left face-off circle. Weslosky, coming out to play the shot, was out of position when the rebound went right to Engel, giving the senior a wide-open net to score the game winner.
“He has that ability to have that touch with the stick,” Eaves said. “Coming into a forward’s role, he has poise and confidence with the puck and as he grows into that role, he understands where he needs to be to get rebounds and to get open. It’s a growing process (but) based on what we saw tonight, it was a good growth.”
Madison has become a house of horrors for the Huskies. The Huskies have a 12-game winless streak at the Kohl Center and a 13-game winless streak against Wisconsin overall. The last time the Huskies won in Madison was February, 2001.
“We’ve got a curse here, no question,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “There’s got to be a curse for us (against them).”
The ghosts jumped on Wisconsin’s bandwagon from the get-go, as the Badgers were able to find their way onto the scoreboard in the opening period, something that has become a rarity for UW.
Off the initial shot from UW defenseman Jamie McBain, freshman Patrick Johnson found himself in perfect position at the top of the crease to cash in a rebound. Although his first attempt failed when Weslosky coughed up the puck, Johnson’s persistence paid off, scoring the game’s first goal in the opening minute.
In Wisconsin’s previous seven WCHA games entering the night, the Badgers had scored just one goal in the first period, including none in the last six consecutive conference contests.
Needless to say, it was a streak that Badgers were more than happy to break
“Our focus this morning in our meeting wasn’t on teaching, it was about us responding with a great start tonight and that first goal was evidence of that,” Eaves said. “We got up and down the ice like we needed to and that’s got to be apart of our identity.”
From that point, the two teams traded blows. St. Cloud (7-5-2, 3-4-1 WCHA) took advantage of a misplaced puck by UW goalie Shane Connelly that led to Huskies’ freshman Garrett Roe starting a bang-bang-bang play, throwing the puck to winger Ryan Lasch, who found fellow-forward Andreas Nodl above the right circle with an open net.
After Engel’s first goal, St. Cloud State bounced back with two unanswered tallies, one by Aaron Marvin that deflected off a defenseman’s shoulder pad and the second by Lasch on a puck that caromed off one of his linemates, leaving him with a wide-open net.
Despite having numerous odd-man rushes in the third period and a couple legitimate opportunities in the closing seconds to tie the score, the Huskies only were able to get off six shots in the third period and couldn’t match UW’s third-period intensity.
“We’re not happy with the outcome, giving up two goals in the third period, but that’s a part of our growing thing right now,” Motzko said. “Both of those goals were in transition. We played pretty good hockey this weekend and we had a bunch of chances to win it.”
The three unsung heroes of the weekend were the Badgers second line of Engel, Geoffrion and Johnson, who were given the assignment of matching up with SCSU’s second-line of Matt Hartmann, Nodl and Roe. Not allowing the line to score any even strength goals all weekend, the trio, not known for their offensive prowess, scored three and notched three assists in Saturday’s triumph.
“Part of their task tonight, we wanted them to play against (SCSU’s second line),” Eaves said. “Their mindset was shutting them down and trying to contain them the best they could. On the flipside, they were productive, which was somewhat of a bonus. The balance that they bring, they can play with and without the puck and be effective and tonight they did both very well.”