MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin assistant captain Jamie McBain insists that he doesn’t thoroughly study the statistics.
Leading the Badgers and the nation’s defensemen in scoring with 28 points in 26 games played, McBain was uninformed that only three Wisconsin defenseman have led the team in scoring since joining the WCHA in 1969 and none since 1991.
McBain was also unaware until recently that Wisconsin has never had a Hobey Baker winner, an award that debuted in 1981.
“When I was told that, I was really shocked,” McBain admitted. “It’s pretty shocking because there have been a lot of good players that have come through here.”
If he continues on his torrent pace, the junior has a good chance to be written into Badger history.
Entering the weekend leading the WCHA with 18 power-play points and 18 assists in conference game, McBain added to both of those tallies Friday, registering two assists on two keys goals to help No.15 Wisconsin earn an important victory over No.16 Minnesota-Duluth, besting the Bulldogs, 3-1.
“I have more confidence this year and things seem to be going my way,” McBain said. “My confidence with the puck has definitely grown from last year and guys are doing a great job in front of the net. I am just throwing things out there and guys are scoring goals.”
That statement by McBain was at the theme for Wisconsin (14-10-3, 11-6-2 WCHA), as the Badgers’ first two goals were a direct result of solid, confident passing.
After UMD’s Jack Connolly scored his seventh goal of the year off a rebound by UW goalie Shane Connelly, Wisconsin struck back quickly after UMD’s Scott Kishel was sent to the box for hooking at 12:21.
After center Derek Stepan won the ensuing face off and got the puck to McBain, the defenseman spotted forward Michael Davies sitting wide open inside the right face-off circle. McBain threaded the opening and Davies was able to sneak the puck off the left pad of goalie Alex Stalock to tie the score at 12:30.
“Jamie is a pro-typical quarterback in the game of hockey,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “He had the combination of being able to see the ice very well, see what’s there and take advantage of that because of his skill.”
McBain, who trails Minnesota’s Ryan Stoa and Duluth’s Justin Fontaine by one in the conference point race, had a little luck on his side with his second assist, as he had a great seat on the bench for Sean Dolan’s game-winner midway through the second period.
With McBain passing the puck off to forward John Mitchell, McBain headed for the bench while watching Mitchell try to go clockwise around the net for a wrap-around until was met with heavy resistance by the UMD defense. With Mitchell losing control of the puck and wiping out the defenseman and Stalock, the puck slid across his crease to Dolan, who was able to slide his stick in and tap the puck into the net to double the Badger lead.
“I just planted myself out on the side of the net,” Dolan said. “He brought it to the house and I just got my stick on it.”
From that point on, Wisconsin’s defense, led by McBain, took control.
Duluth never got any momentum heading its way in the third period, as Duluth attempted only four shots, all of which were gobbled up by Connelly (20 saves). Playing with the lead, the Badgers took zero third-period penalties and gave the league’s leading power-play unit only three opportunities to score, all of which were snuffed out.
Just for good measure, senior Tom Gorowsky added an empty-net tally with five seconds left on the clock, capping off what some fans called a ‘boring’ final period.
“If they say that was boring, then we’re doing the right things,” Eaves said. “I really thought we showed our growth and maturity as a team the way we played in the third period.”
Other than Stalock stopping 28 shots, including denying two breakaways and disrupting two more with poke-checks, for Duluth (13-8-6, 7-7-5 WCHA), there were many positives for Scott Sandelin’s crew, as the head coach got no fire from his team, which fell to 1-6-2 on the road this season.
“There wasn’t much of anything going on in the whole frickin game,” Sandelin said. “We need a better effort than that. They got the power-play goal and they won the special teams game. We didn’t execute all that well (and) just didn’t play very well.”
Hearing those words from Sandelin all the more re-enforces the important of tomorrow night for both teams in terms of the standings and the PairWise Rankings.
“We have to be sure that we don’t take anything for granted and don’t take them lightly,” McBain said. “Every game is a playoff game. You look how close it is, every team brings out best every night.”