MADISON, Wisc. — It’s amazing how sound defense and execution can wake up a dormant hockey team.
Even with a one-goal advantage midway though the second period, it still seemed like Wisconsin was still trying to grasp on to the momentum, trying to uncork the energy that had carried the Badgers to a 7-1-1 record in the month of November.
Thanks to the Badgers suddenly dominant penalty kill, the Badgers seized control.
Killing off one minute, 52 seconds of 5-on-3 hockey midway through the second period, the Badgers ignited a mundane 12,268 fans to propel the Badgers to two more second-period goals, giving UW the winning margin to best Alaska Anchorage, 3-2.
One of the main reasons for Wisconsin’s nine-game resurgence has been the Badgers tightening the screws on the penalty kill. Although ranking third in the WCHA in killing off 89.7 percent of its penalties, Wisconsin (8-7-2, 6-5-2 WCHA) has been solid over the past nine contests, entering the game giving up only four goals in 57 chances (93 percent).
So when the Badgers went two men down in a span of eight seconds, the UW defense barely shook in their skates.
“We all study (the penalty kill) pretty hard,” defenseman Cody Goloubef said. “It’s all about good sticks blocking shots on the pressure. Guys are sacrificing their body to block shots. We all had to buy into the system. I think it took awhile, but I think we are doing pretty well now.”
One of the keys to the penalty kill has been Wisconsin’s senior goal tender, as Shane Connelly admittedly is playing with as much confidence as he ever had. Stopping 35 of 37 shots on the evening, Connelly stymied the four shots he faced on Anchorage’s two-man advantage, including a point-blank attempt from Paul Crowder that he managed to deflect with his stick.
“There are always turning points in the game and that was clearing a major turning point,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said.
The floodgates for Wisconsin opened after that. With UW back on the power play, freshman center Derek Stephan took a pass from forward Michael Davies inside the face-off circle and swept the puck past UAA goalie Bryan Christianson to double the lead. Twenty-one second later, Cody Goloubef threw a puck on net from the blue line and was rewarded, as the puck somehow found its way past Christianson to give UW a 3-0 at 17:43.
“It started with the penalty kill,” Goloubef said. “All three guys had some big blocks shots and that all contributes to the power play goal. If we don’t have that, who knows what happens on the power play. That got the crowd in it, got the team into it and led to the goals.”
Wisconsin didn’t have to wait long for most of the air to be let out of its metaphoric balloon.
Anchorage’s Tyler Moir delivered a clean check on team captain and leading scorer Blake Geoffrion with just over two minutes left in the second period. Geoffrion, who was hunched over at the time of the hit, landed squarely on his left ankle with his body weight, sending him sprawling to the ice in obvious pain.
After he was helped off the ice by team trainers, the Badgers weren’t the same.
Alaska Anchorage (7-6-2, 4-5-2 WCHA), who outskated the Badgers 5-on-5 for the entire 60 minutes, finally had some results to show for its efforts. Seawolf forward and Sean Wiles sent a one-timer that banged off the crossbar and into the net for a power play goal, Anchorage’s only successful conversion on seven attempts.
Five minutes later, Trevon Hunt scored his first career goal from the right face-off circle that snuck through the Wisconsin defense to turn UW’s third shutout in four games to a one-goal nail biter.
“It was a different team without Blake,” Eaves said of his team in the third period. “He is our captain, the guy that carries the message and leads by example. It was like flying a plane and we lost one of our engines and we have to land the darn thing.”
But Connelly came up big when he had to. The senior snuffed out Crowder’s shot with over two minutes left and foiled a two-on-one when Josh Lunden’s shot was smothered in Connelly’s chest with less than a minute to go, as the Badgers closed the door from there.
“Shane played unbelievable and was making big saves left and right,” Goloubef said. “(Anchorage) gets pucks on net really well, but we have to thank Shane for this one. He held us in there and made sure he got us the win.”
Outshooting UW in all three periods and 37-24 overall, the Seawolves couldn’t capitalize on the Badgers’ sloppiness, as the bounces and the power play never bounced in their direction.
“When you go down two, three nothing, it’s obviously hard to come back. I thought our guys did a courageous job coming back in the third period and making it a game,” said head coach Dave Shyiak. “It could have been a different game had we scored on 5-on-3. They were better on special teams and that’s one of the big reasons they got the win.”