MADISON, Wis. — Six times. the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team had played nearly flawless hockey in winning the opener of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series and only twice had they finished off the sweep.
One of those failed attempts was against Minnesota State in the second week of the season, following a dominant 6-0 victory by shooting themselves in the foot in a 3-2 setback.
“We’ve known we’ve blown some games,” senior tri-captain Ben Street said, “and we know we can’t afford to do that down the stretch.”
Having that same chance against Minnesota State 16 weeks later, Wisconsin’s elder statesman made sure the Badgers closed the deal. Celebrating his 23rd birthday Saturday, Street capped a dominant first period that set the tone for No.3 Wisconsin’s 8-4 victory in front of 14,260 at the Kohl Center.
The sweep moved Wisconsin (18-7-7, 13-6-3) into a third place tie with idle Minnesota-Duluth and only three points behind first-place Denver.
“He brings another aspect of leadership,” said senior Andy Bohmbach of Street, who finished with a goal and two assists. “He’s a fifth-year senior and he’s been around our team the longest. He’s won a national championship, and he knows how to lead this team by example.”
Leading by example is a label all seven Wisconsin seniors could carry as a banner in the series finale, accounting for four goals and eight assists, with most coming at opportune times.
Bohmbach bailed out his goalie by erasing a 1-0 Mavericks’ lead 53 seconds into the game by backhanding a shot off goalie Phil Cook’s blocker to the tie the score at one at 1:38.
“It’s always good to rebound like that, get a goal right after they do,” Bohmbach said. “It kind of shuts them up and gets our team going.”
Senior Blake Geoffrion scored his team-leading 20th goal of the season and his 12th on the power play when he banged home a backhand feed from senior Michael Davies, one of his two assists.
Geoffrion was just getting started, assisting perfectly on a Jake Gardiner short-handed goal off a delayed penalty in the second and adding his second of the night with an even-strength rocket from the left circle in the third, giving him his seventh point for the weekend and boosting his WCHA-leading point total to 32 points.
“He was very businesslike during the course of the week,” said UW coach Mike Eaves of Geoffrion. “I think that led him into him having a real good weekend. He’s playing pretty well right now.”
Street capped the first-period scoring at 19 minutes when senior John Mitchell registered one of his two assists after he slipped the puck to Street, who was unmarked in the right circle and uncorked a speedy wrister.
When the dust finally settled, seven different Badgers scored goals, 11 registered a point and each line registered at least one point, mostly led by the seniors.
“We don’t have that go-to sniper guy that most teams have,” Geoffrion said. “Our offense comes from all four lines. All four lines can score and we proved that tonight.
Added Eaves, “Are the seniors sensing that the end is here and rising to a mew level? Perhaps that’s part of it.”
After going three-of-12 on the power play and killing off all five power plays Friday, Wisconsin provided a suitable encore, going three-of-eight on the man advantage and killing off seven-of-eight MSU power plays, meaning UW has killed off 29-of-31 penalties.
“Five-on-five might have been one of our better games this year,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting, whose team was whistled for 27 penalties on the weekend. “I think (the penalties) wore us down last night and to come back night two, it’s just that much more difficult.”
It wasn’t all seniors making life miserable for the Mavericks (12-16-2, 6-15-1). Hobey Baker candidate Brendan Smith registered his 13th of the season with a power-play tally, courtesy of Davies’ connecting the dots on the passing sequence, the exact same sequence that helped the Badgers score two third-period power-play goals a week ago to upend Michigan in the Camp Randall Hockey Classic.
Cook was pulled after Smith’s goal, but replacement Austin Lee faired no better stopping the power play, unable to stop a slap shot from junior tri-captain Ryan McDonagh at 8:46 in the third.
Even role players stepped in, including a breakaway goal from junior Ben Grotting off a long feed from Bohmbach and a couple of assists from freshman defenseman John Ramage.
“Wisconsin has a very, very good hockey team,” Jutting said. “When they had chances to make plays, they made them. They made some pretty good shots. Those were shots that were scoring shots.”
“When you are in the top of this league, very rarely do you see a team that doesn’t have two, three kids that consistently show up every night on the score sheet.”
Getting his first start since being pulled after allowing two soft goals against Duluth two weeks ago, UW goalie Brett Bennett had another rough beginning to his night, getting back in position after vacating his net, but allowing a fluky goal to Eli Zuck at 53 seconds. Bennett settled in to stop the next 22 shots before giving up three goals down the stretch, but finished with a season-high 31 saves.
“It was a big step for him getting back his confidence level,” Eaves said.
The confidence factor for the rest of his team, however, is not in question.
“It’s really high right now,” Geoffrion said. “Everything is clicking for the most part.”