MADISON, Wis. — Podge Turnbull didn’t hesitate when asked when, exactly, the cold water was splashed on his face to elicit the response that the Wisconsin senior forward has produced in the last month.
Being forced to watch three games of his senior season as a healthy scratch last month was enough to get the message through to Turnbull, and now the Badgers are reaping the benefits.
Turnbull scored twice, his third and fourth goals in his last three games, and the 15th-ranked Badgers changed things up enough to craft a rare quick start in a 5-1 victory over Massachusetts on Thursday at the Kohl Center.
Being pulled out of his comfort zone seems to have sparked something in Turnbull, who had just three goals in 15 games this season before scoring in each game against Bemidji State in Wisconsin’s last series before the holiday break.
“Hard work pays off, and that’s something that’s been stressed to me for the last four years here,” Turnbull said. “Maybe it’s just starting to actually set in.”
Defenseman Frankie Simonelli added a goal and two assists for the Badgers (11-7-3), who got 18 saves from Scott Gudmandson.
More critically, they got the kind of start for which they were longing at the close of the first half, with Patrick Johnson redirecting a Simonelli shot past Jeff Teglia just 76 seconds in.
Falling behind early or just not executing in the first period was becoming an increasingly sore spot for the Badgers as the first two months of the season progressed.
“We were pretty solid from beginning to end tonight,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said.
On Thursday, the Badgers changed the pregame routine. Gudmandson said the music went off earlier than usual and players talked about things they needed to be aware of.
Now that it worked?
“I’m guessing we’re probably going to do that tomorrow,” Gudmandson said.
Ryan Little also scored for the Badgers, building a 3-0 lead early in the second period before T.J. Syner pulled one back for the Minutemen (3-8-3).
Simonelli scored midway through the second and Turnbull added his second of the game later in the frame.
Teglia, a freshman making just his fourth start, left after allowing five goals on 20 shots through two periods. Paul Dainton stopped all 14 shots he faced in the third.
UMass’ job got tougher after conceding a goal so early, but the nemesis for the Minutemen was not converting on more of their chances, coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said.
“We need to play better as a team and play with a little bit more assuredness than we demonstrated tonight,” he said. “It’s going to be a long season if we don’t find that assuredness.”
Turnbull’s biggest nemesis has been not moving his feet to get in position, but he made a step away from that Thursday when he put the Badgers ahead 2-0 by racing to the front of the net to put away the leftovers of a wraparound attempt by Tyler Barnes.
“Going to the scoring area is hard; it’s a tough thing to do,” he said. “To find the puck there is something that doesn’t happen often, but if you go to those areas, you’ve got a better chance.”
The Turnbull that Badgers coaches have seen in the last three games has been different from the one that landed him in the seats for home games against Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan in November.
“He’s a very talented young man, but he was just playing hockey,” Eaves said. “To be a hockey player, you’ve got to take that skill and you’ve got to win battles, you’ve got to win races and you’ve got to incorporate that skill into the game, which is a competitive, physical game.”
Badgers coaches pulled Turnbull aside during his time out of the lineup and told him they needed him to be a more complete player.
“I knew that, but it was one of those things where it just had to happen,” Turnbull said. “I had to fully understand it. That last sit there that I had really opened my eyes to the game and how I needed to play.”
The transformation may not be complete, but Turnbull’s progress has encouraged the Badgers coaches.
“It’s a step,” Eaves said, “but one that is nice to see.”