MADISON, Wis. — Being one of the hottest teams in hockey as the first half of the season closed, the thought that Wisconsin, holding a record of 9-1-1 in its last 11 games, would have a problem regaining the momentum after having a two week vacation was a real possibility.
Those inquiries only persisted for 40 minutes, as the third period showed the Badgers are revving their engines once again.
The Badgers got three third-period goals and tallies from five different sources, proving to be too much for visiting Alaska-Huntsville in a 5-0 shutout that was all Wisconsin from the start.
“We’ve talked about some games we have won and talked about the fact that we thought we weren’t as good as we might have been,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “Tonight, we were pretty solid all the way through. There are a lot of positives there and it’s nice for our guys to have success.”
However, to say Wisconsin (10-7-2) was simply dominant in its own holiday tournament from the opening faceoff does not give due credit to how good the Badgers really were on Saturday night.
Wisconsin fired 60 shots on goal, got a goal from each of its top three lines and did it despite missing three key scorers to injuries and the World Junior Championships. On the other end of the spectrum, UW allowed only 10 shots on goal, a program low for fewest shots allowed in a game.
The special teams were exceptional. Wisconsin went 2-for-8 on the power play and killed off the only two man-disadvantages that they faced from Alabama-Huntsville (2-8-1).
The goaltending for Wisconsin was solid as usual, although senior Shane Connelly didn’t have to panic very often. He faced four shots in the first and third period and just two in the second and holds a unique Wisconsin record for having the most saves in a shutout (43) and now the fewest in a blanking (10).
“They are both difficult in their own right,” Connelly said when asked which shutout was tougher. “Tonight was a little different because I didn’t have to do any work. It was more of a mental battle and I didn’t really have many chances where they made it difficult. I’ll stick with the 43 shot shutout.”
More importantly, the Badgers, despite having some shades of rust throughout the first period, didn’t let the visitors get the better of them, which is a big reason why UW will go for its 10th Badger Hockey Showdown title against Lake Superior State (5-8-6) tomorrow night.
“The mantra tonight was to make sure we didn’t get outworked and we clearly did that for 60 minutes,” Eaves said.
Even with the shot disparity (UW led in shots 40-6 at the end of the second period), Wisconsin didn’t deliver the dagger until the third period.
Elevated to the first line because of the missing components, junior Andy Bohmbach fired a one-timer over the stick of Chargers’ goalie Cameron Talbot (46 saves) from the left faceoff circle at one minute, 32 seconds into the third.
“You have those nights where everything goes your way,” Bohmbach said. “I am starting to feel more comfortable with my role. You have those nights when you’re off and nights where you’re on and tonight I felt was one of those nights where I was on.”
From there, the Wisconsin power play took over. Freshman Jake Gardiner notched his first collegiate goal with a snipe from the right circle at seven minutes, 36 seconds and junior Jamie McBain followed suit on UW’s next power play, firing a rocket from above the same faceoff circle to cap the scoring.
Despite Wisconsin having no ‘go-to’ scorer on its squad, the Badgers have 10 players that have registered at least nine points or more and five players with at least five goals, signaling the Badgers, despite early season struggles, are starting to grasp the concept of team offense.
“The more we play, the clearer it becomes who we are and what we have to do and tonight was an extension of that,” Eaves said. “It’s truly becoming who we are and who we need to continue to play to.”