MADISON, Wis. — For whatever reason, Tigers’ junior Chad Rau can’t wait for a Wisconsin power play. Ironically, the Badgers right now seemingly can’t wait for the two minutes to expire.
Couple Rau and the way the Badgers’ luck has been going on the man advantage for the last six weeks and it was ‘Groundhog Day’ once again for the center from Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
After holding the lead for over 45 minutes of ice time Saturday night, the Badgers, on the man advantage, yet again couldn’t corral the red-hot stick of Rau, as the center scored his fourth short-handed goal in as many games against Wisconsin, tying the score at one.
Nearly 10 minutes later, the Tigers completed the comeback over the disheartened Badgers on a near perfect give-and-go to complete the sweep, beating the Badgers 3-1 Saturday night.
Although Rau’s goal wouldn’t go down as the game winner, his goal summed up the fate of the Wisconsin hockey team on Saturday night.
With the Badgers on their fifth power play of the evening, freshman Brendan Smith circled around the back of the Wisconsin net and looked to pass the puck off to fellow defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the neutral zone. Rau read the play perfectly, intercepting the pass and beating Connelly through the five-hole to tie the score.
“I just watched the eyes and saw how the play was going to develop to my side,” Rau said. “I just had to make sure that winger (Scott) McCulloch stayed onside and tagged up in time.”
A point of emphasis for the Badgers heading into the series was to find success on their power play. While converting on only two of its last 48 power-play attempts over the last 12 games, Wisconsin has allowed seven short-handed goals during the same time frame, with four coming off the stick of Rau.
“It is kinda crazy,” Rau said. “Shorthanded goals are kinda rare, too. I’ll take them.”
With tonight’s game in the books, Rau has scored more goals on Wisconsin’s power play (four) than the Badgers (two) since these two teams first met November 16. All four goal have been game-changing plays.
“We’re definitely not trying to give him those opportunities,” assistant captain Ben Street said with a chuckle. “He is an opportunist and he’s made us pay for some bad passes. Those are times where we should be scoring, but he’s coming down and putting them in on us.”
Just like Friday’s game, the Tigers carried the momentum from Rau’s short-handed tally to execute a text book takeaway and give-and-go for the game winner.
Off right winger Mike Testwuide’s mid-ice check that forced the puck loose from Wisconsin’s McDonagh, Colorado College’s Andreas Vlassopoulos took the puck across the front of goalie Shane Connelly, only to dump the puck back to McCulloch. With a wide-open net in front of him, the assistant captain buried the one-timer to put the Tigers ahead for good.
Testwuide was rewarded for his turnover-causing check by scoring his first goal of the year in the waning seconds when Wisconsin pulled Connelly in a last-ditch effort to generate some offense.
In three of Colorado College’s last four games, the Tigers have gone into the third period scoreless, yet have managed to win all three games. Tonight’s win gave them their first sweep in Madison since 1995.
“We were mentally fatigued tonight and I think they were tired, as well,” Tigers’ coach Scott Owens said. “We just hung in there and got our top guys in there. I thought Wisconsin played pretty well tonight and were certainly more deserving of what they got.
“I don’t want to say (Wisconsin) is not confident right now,” he added, “But we’re a confident team right now.”
After finding little offensive rhythm against Tigers’ goalie Richard Bachman the night before, Wisconsin found its offensive niche right from the start.
With Wisconsin winning the opening faceoff, the puck found its way to Smith, who fired a shot at Bachman from the point. Watching the puck go airborne, fellow freshman Sean Dolan put his stick to good use, batting the free-flying puck out of the air and into the goal.
The goal, coming at 13 seconds of the period, was the third-fastest goal in program history.
“I got pretty lucky to get a stick on it,” Dolan said. “It was a lucky play, but I am happy about it.”
Wisconsin has its chances to extend the one-goal lead throughout the contest, but never could covert after the opening seconds.
Dolan had a chance to score his first collegiate two-goal game with a partially open net in the second period, but his slap shot went off Bachman’s shoulder. Senior Matt Ford saw at least three of his shots ricochet off the post.
“I don’t know if we hit three or four posts in the second period,” Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves said. “If we convert on one of those and get the crowd into it, we have a little wiggle room.”
With their 13th league victory, the Tigers already have matched last year’s WCHA win total and hold sole possession of first place over idle Denver. The Badgers, on the other end, turned in another valiant effort with nothing to show for it.
Of Wisconsin’s nine losses this season, five have come against the top seven teams in the country.
“We felt like we played pretty well both nights and gave ourselves a chance to win both nights,” team captain Davis Drewiske said. “We just didn’t get it done tonight. It’s all part of the process. We aren’t going to hang our heads for too long.”