MADISON, Wis. — There was no admitted pressure placed on Jordy Murray’s shoulders as he prepared for what is going to be a season of change for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
Seven seniors and four underclassmen are gone to the pros and the minors, leaving Murray the team’s leading returning point scorer with a modest 12, and making the junior proclaim it’s going to be a team approach to recover all the vacated offense.
Murray’s analysis will probably be accurate, but the top-line forward rewrote a chapter Sunday afternoon, scoring three goals to lead No.15 Wisconsin to a 5-2 victory over Alabama-Huntsville, putting a bow on a one-sided sweep on a night where the Badgers were far from crisp.
“If that natural emotion isn’t there where you aren’t jacked and ready to play, the result is that we found ourselves in a heck of a game,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “Alabama-Huntsville came in here ready to play. They played harder, got to the net, did things to help keep them in the game. Thank goodness we responded pretty well.”
With the Badgers (3-1-0) grinding through the first period and holding a 1-0 lead, Murray kick started the engine 15 seconds into the second, receiving a feed from freshman linemate Mark Zengerle in the slot and burying it past UAH goalie Clarke Saunders for the quick strike and a 2-0 lead.
With the Badgers still searching for flow they never seemed to fully grasp Sunday, Murray provided the backbreaker. After Alabama-Huntsville (1-3-0) cut the lead to one on Chris Fairbanks’
rebound goal at 1:51, Murray picked up a loose puck at his blue line, skated in on the breakaway and delivered a strike over Saunders’ left shoulder at 12:54.
“If you talked to Jordy about his year last year, it was a frustrating year,” Eaves said. “He never met his expectations, never got in a true rhythm. Seeing his physical development (this summer), he’s going to come in to his own now. These are the type of things he can do and provide for this team.”
For good measure, Murray knifed through traffic and backhanded in his third goal at 7:59 in the third.
It was the first hat trick for Murray since high school and Wisconsin’s first since 2010 Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion tallied three against Michigan Tech on December 4, 2009. How ironic that Geoffrion was in the stands watching his brother Bruce and Sebastian play for UAH and that, for such a passionate hockey town, no hats were thrown on to the ice.
“I think it’s still a Sunday afternoon after a big football game,” Eaves said of the hat-less celebration. “Nobody was thinking straight.”
Still trying to find some balance with 10 freshmen in his lineup, Eaves continued changing his lineup, swapping in three rookies.
With only 11,731 in the stands, mostly hungover from the football team’s 13-point victory over No.1 Ohio State, the result was a sluggish performance and a lack of energy at times from most personnel, except Zengerle.
Competing in the British Columbia Hockey League, Zengerle calculated that the largest crowd he played in front of was 2,000 people. This weekend showed Zengerle apparently has a flair for the big stage.
Showing off the same skills that allowed him to average two points-per-game last season with the BCHL’s Salmon Arm Silverbacks, Zengerle was looking to add to his assist total when his crossing pass deflected off Saunders’ skate and into the net at 2:42 in the first period.
With two points Sunday, giving him four for the weekend, Zengerle leads Wisconsin (3-1-0) with six points and five assists on the young season.
“I definitely felt a lot better this weekend,” Zengerle said. “Playing with Jordy and Craig (Smith), it’s pretty easy. Get the pucks in deep and try to work hard because they are always going to be on it.
Just like Zengerle’s surprise start, Wisconsin can be equally impressed with the fluidity of the power play, especially after the amount of turnover the unit experienced. Even without leading point scorer Derek Stepan (who registered a hat trick in his first game with the New York Rangers) and Geoffrion, Wisconsin has converted 11 times on 29 attempts (37.9 percent conversion rate) in four games on the man advantage, including two on Sunday.
The Badgers needed 12 games to get that many a season ago when they rode one of the best power plays in the nation to a runner-up finish in the Frozen Four.
“It’s been pretty good (but) still needs some work,” said assistant captain Jake Gardiner, who added a power-play goal in the third. “Pucks were bouncing a little bit today, so we weren’t as sharp as we have been. We definitely are going to work on some things and get better every day.”
The Chargers, who will spend this season skating as the NCAA’s lone independent school, had an easy ‘to-do’ list from their coach after being shellacked in the opener — play more physical, play with more energy and intensity, and don’t let any goal shake the confidence.
It’s all part of the building block that first-year coach Chris Luongo and the Chargers are trying to establish in what plans to be a challenging campaign
“Some of that is the mark of the young team,” Luongo said. “You’re trying to put that lightening in a bottle and open that every night to give yourself a chance to win. We can compete when we bring our very best. That’s all we’re after as a team, prepare to have a chance.”