MADISON, Wis. — After the Wisconsin Badgers lost team captain and top goal scorer Blake Geoffrion Friday against Alaska Anchorage to a leg injury, the big question was how they would respond the next night.
They found an answer Saturday; seven of them, in fact.
A balanced attack led by six different scorers, at least one from all four lines, that propelled the Badgers to a 7-2 victory over the Seawolves Saturday night at the Kohl Center, moving Wisconsin (9-7-2, 7-5-2 WCHA) to first place in the WCHA with 16 points.
“People stepped up to the plate tonight,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “With Blake being down, you kind of look around the room. We talked about it; this has to be done collectively, and it was done collectively.”
The group effort began when Michael Davies scored the first of his two goals late in the first period to put UW on the board. Davies took a centering pass from freshman Jordy Murray and beat UAA goaltender Jon Olthuis five-hole for a 1-0 lead.
The scoring clinic continued for Wisconsin after the first intermission, as three different Badgers all found the net. Podge Turnbull’s goal 2:28 into the second frame gave UW a 2-0 lead.
Turnbull was able to work a give-and-go on a breakaway with freshman Matt Thurber, who collected the assist on Turnbull’s fourth goal of the season. The odd-man rush was the result of a bad line change by Anchorage, who weren’t able to get back defensively.
“It was just a bad change,” UAA head coach Dave Shyiak said. “Lack of awareness.”
Cody Goloubef and Andy Bohmbach also scored in the second period to give Wisconsin a 4-0 advantage heading into the final frame.
Sophomores Brendan Smith and Sean Dolan scored just 11 seconds apart in the third to push the lead to 6-0. Smith was able to make use of the UW power play, scoring the Badgers’ second goal of the night with the man-advantage.
“We just didn’t play well,” Shyiak said. “It was probably our worst collective effort of the year.”
Alaska Anchorage (7-7-2, 4-6-2 WCHA) tried to climb back into what turned into a rout when forward Tyler Moir deflected a shot by teammate Nils Backstrom to bring the game to 6-1. UAA’s Tommy Grant scored his 11th goal of the season to make it a 6-2 affair, but Wisconsin’s Davies scored for the second time of the night to cap off the evening.
For Davies, the two-goal performance was a bit of a statement. Like his Badger team, the junior struggled with inconsistent play early on, eventually being benched for six straight games after not playing to the level Eaves and the coaching staff wanted. Part of what that meant was his inability to produce five-on-five.
Both goals Saturday came at even strength, which Davies was quick to point out to his coach.
“I think he’s made a concerted effort to make sure that his five-on-five play has been better, and he was rewarded tonight for that,” Eaves said. “What great growth for Michael.”
“Five-on-five, it’s great to chip in; I haven’t been doing well lately with that,” Davies said. “It feels like the hard work paid off, not just for me but the entire team.”
Davies’ hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, either.
“It’s huge, especially for the team, just to see a guy like that that we know we need to be in the lineup and need to be effective for us,” junior defenseman Jamie McBain said. “His perseverance kind of sums up our team. He just never quit and he just kept going through it. Obviously he’s reaping the rewards now.”
For a team that started the season 0-6-1 before collecting its first win, Wisconsin now finds itself in first place of the WCHA following a 9-1-1 stretch since Nov. 1.
“It’s quite the accomplishment for this group from where we were,” Eaves said. “The thing that we as a staff are the proudest of is they stayed together through tough times and we persevered. The lessons that we learned through those first seven games until we got our first win are going to pay dividends.”
Indeed, the Badgers have learned from the rough opening stretch, losing just once since then. They’ll have to wait three weeks before they can attempt to continue their five-game winning streak, however, when they’ll next face Alabama Huntsville at home in the Badger Hockey Showdown.
Anchorage, too, will have an extended break before returning to action. The Seawolves won’t hit the ice again until Jan. 9, when they’ll play host to the Badgers.
“We’ve got a lot of games ahead of us,” Shyiak said. “We’re not going to dwell on two games.”