MADISON, Wis. — The results were typical.
The Wisconsin hockey team beat Michigan Tech Friday night 5-2 — the third straight game with that final score in the matchup — and extended their unbeaten streak against the Huskies to 10 games. The Badgers decisively won the special teams battle.
The method to the finished product, however, highlighted the glaring difference between last season’s Frozen Four squad and the inexperienced roster out on the ice.
Michigan Tech (3-1-2 overall, 1-1-1 in the WCHA) came out attacking, buoyed perhaps as UW coach Mike Eaves suggested, with the confidence that comes from starting the season on a five-straight game unbeaten streak. Before the JumboTron camera had a chance to show-off the most amusing Halloween costumes in attendance, the Huskies had put together a two goal lead heading into the second period.
Which leads us to one of the many Mike Eaves maxims:
“The two goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey.”
With his team putting in five unanswered goals over the final two periods, the experience should enforce the message more forcefully than any pep talk could.
“It is hard to put a price on doing that,” said Eaves. “There are certain intrinsic feelings that come from doing that type of thing … 2-0 is probably the falsest lead in hockey. It is 2-1 and you have a bit of momentum going then all of the sudden it is 2-2. We had good leadership and to come away from this game will help us in the future.”
Wisconsin netted its first tally with another of Eaves favorite sayings: Getting pucks and bodies on net.
After UW forward Craig Smith fired a wrister on net, the rebound came to UW defenseman Jake Gardiner deep in the slot. He ripped the puck straight away, with freshman Michael Mersch tipping it in on goal.
Mersch put away the dagger late in the fourth period on an almost identical effort and shot from Gardiner. The two finished the game with three points apiece, getting pucks and bodies to the net.
“Ever since [Mersch] has been here, the way he has been in practice and the way he has been in games, the coaches have said we have to keep him in the lineup,” said Eaves. “The work ethic, his ability to show us he can think with and without the puck.
“We have seen glimpses from him and tonight we saw a bigger glimpse of what he can provide for us.”
After starting the game in control, a five-minute major for checking from behind on Michigan Tech’s Carl Nielsen near the end of the second period brought the Huskies back down to status quo for the Tech and Wisconsin rivalry.
The Badgers capitalized on the score board with Podge Turnbull lighting the lamp for the third time this season, but just as importantly swung momentum back to the Cardinal and White side.
“Any time a team gets a five minute major it is just going to hurt,” Michigan Tech’s Brett Olson said. “We battled pretty hard but they got a lucky bounce on that goal … using your penalty killers, tiring legs. Especially at the end of the second it is not good for the third.”
The Badgers (4-2-1, 1-1-1) took the lead for good on Patrick Johnson’s first tally of the season, a highlight reel pass and finish from freshman Tyler Barnes dancing behind the net.
“All the credit goes to [Barnes],” Johnson said.
Good for the Badgers; and good for Johnson, according to Eaves.
“The difference from years past is [Johnson] is playing under control. He is not being the yappy guy or the get-under-your-skin guy or the energy guy. He is just playing and he is playing well. It is really good for him to score the winning goal tonight because he has sure worked at it.”