MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin sophomore Scott Gudmandson knows that being eased into the starting goaltender slot is a process, especially at a school known as Goaltender U.
Gudmandson, who entered Saturday night’s tilt with a 0-2 record, giving up 6.03 goals per game and saving just 82 percent of his shots, still knows that he has a ways to go before becoming Wisconsin’s full-time goalie next season.
With the performance he turned in Saturday, the sophomore knows that he is getting closer to that level.
Gudmandson stopped 34 Michigan Tech shots, the Badgers’ defensemen registered nine points and the power play registered five tallies for the first time in nearly 14 years as Wisconsin earned its first sweep of the season, silencing Michigan Tech 6-0 in front of 14,210 at the Kohl Center.
Gudmandson, who admittedly had to rebuild his confidence after suffering losses at New Hampshire and Denver, made solid stops early to get his confidence rolling. He stopped a point blank shot by Seth Soley in the opening minutes, got a pad on an Alex MacLeod shot that prevented a goal and stymied Derek Kitti from the right circle.
Once his team got the first goal, however, the immense pressure started to fade off Gudmandson’s shoulders.
“Obviously it is tough and is something that is always going to be in the back of your mind that you have given up 12 goals in two games,” Gudmandson said. “It’s great when your team scores first because that is something that you can lay back on.”
Senior goalie Shane Connelly, who stopped 24 shots in UW’s win last night, was expected to start both games this weekend, but Coach Mike Eaves remarked that Gudmandson had been so successful in practice that the sophomore earned a chance to get his first victory on Saturday.
“The team got the North Dakota victory in terms of getting the monkey off its back and getting confidence; the victory tonight for Gudy is probably the same thing in getting the win and the zero in front of the home crowd,” Eaves said. “That’s the kind of thing you can’t teach in practice. He made our decision easy by the way he practiced.”
Of course, with the production Gudmandson got from his defensemen, the University of Wisconsin’s new nickname could be ‘Defensemen U.’
Averaging 3.1 points per game, the six Badgers’ defensemen, led by Jamie McBain’s one goal and two assists and Brendan Smith’s three assists, registered two goals and seven assists Saturday to give the defense a 14-point weekend.
“When you talk about the points the young defense core has gotten, that’s them playing to their strengths and using what they have naturally and them capitalizing on their strengths,” Eaves said. “The fact that they are doing that makes us a better team.”
After Wisconsin (3-6-1, 3-4-1 WCHA) couldn’t get any of its nine shots past freshman Josh Robinson, who replaced senior goalie Rob Nolan on Friday night, the Badgers solved the Robinson mystery late in the opening period.
With Wisconsin on its first power play of the evening, junior center Blake Geoffrion blasted a shot from the right faceoff circle that went over Robinson’s right shoulder and into the back of the net for the opening score.
It was a touch of irony for Geoffrion, who was tripped from behind on a breakaway less than a minute earlier, causing UW to go on its power play.
Michigan Tech (2-6-0, 1-5-0 WCHA) appeared to tie the score four minutes into the second period when, with Gudmandson flat on his back after a save, Tech forward Justin St. Louis buried the puck into a wide-open net. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the whistle had blown just before the puck crossed the goal line.
It wouldn’t be the only time that issue occurred for Tech on Saturday night. Early in the third period, Tech’s Bennett Royer thought he scored a goal when the goal lights went on. Yet again, the referee had blown the play dead.
“I think that is frustrating for our players when you score two goals that are disallowed,” said Michigan Tech Coach Jamie Russell, whose team came into the weekend averaging a league-worst two goals a game. “When we’re a team that is struggling to score goals and we do score and it’s disallowed, that is frustrating and deflating. I think we deserved a better fate tonight.”
With their one-goal lead still preserved, the Badgers’ power play, a unit that has scored a power-play goal in seven of their eight conference games, took over.
It started with John Mitchell’s rebound goal at 11:44 in the second period to double the Badgers’ lead to 2-0. After McBain’s power-play wrist shot from the point increased the Badgers’ lead to three at 3:03 in the third period, Wisconsin took advantage of a Michigan Tech five-on-three to deflate any hope of a comeback.
At 6:40, forward Tom Gorowsky scored to make it 4-0 when he deflected a Geoffrion shot past Robinson from the right faceoff circle. Thirty-three seconds later, defenseman Ryan McDonagh blasted his second goal of the weekend from just shy of the blue line to push the score to 5-0.
UW wasn’t finished, as Geoffrion got his second tally when he tipped in a shot at 14:14, helping Wisconsin finish the night five-for-seven on the power play while Tech went zero-for-six.
“We take pride in the six-for-six penalty killing,” said UW’s Smith. “We haven’t had a shutout this year and it is good to get one. It just boosted us after that. We got chances up front because we had that momentum. It’s great to get the goals and the points because we have been struggling with the power play the last couple of years.”
After struggling for the early part of the season, the Badgers have won three straight contests and go with a head of steam in back-to-back road trips to Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State.
“We are a lot happier, just because our team is winning,” Geoffrion said. “Like Coach Eaves said, we’re going to ride this wave as long as we can and keep playing hard every night. When you do those things, good things happen.”