MADISON, Wis. — If the response provides more insight than the initial action, a series of events Saturday may have provided a glimpse into Wisconsin’s path this season.
The Badgers had a quick answer to a first-period deficit. They came back after seeing a two-goal lead evaporate.
And, in the ultimate response to a weekend gone bad, Wisconsin answered a pair of road losses at Michigan Tech one week earlier with a series sweep of No. 5 North Dakota.
Mark Zengerle broke a 3-3 tie in the third period, and the Badgers held off the Fighting Sioux 5-4 at the Kohl Center despite being outshot 42-15.
“We just all went in with clear minds, just focusing on North Dakota,” Badgers winger Joseph LaBate said. “It represented today. We just kept fighting back and we got the W.”
The Badgers concede there will be plenty of ups and downs this season, and the way the game played out probably won’t be much of a highlight for Wisconsin (3-3, 2-2 WCHA), which attempted 60 fewer shots than North Dakota (83-23).
But the Badgers got a strong outing from freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel, who made 15 saves in each of the first two periods and 38 for the game.
“It starts and ends with him,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “Without his effort in the net, we don’t have a chance. I thought he competed really hard for loose pucks. He fought to see the puck through lots of screens. His rebound control was pretty good. And when he had a chance to handle the puck he did a nice job as well. Pretty complete game for a freshman.”
North Dakota (2-3-1, 0-2), meanwhile, didn’t get the same from junior Aaron Dell, who allowed five goals on 15 shots, dropping his season save percentage to .813.
The Sioux dropped their first two WCHA games for the first time since the 1994-95 season.
“I thought we played well enough tonight to get the win, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Sioux forward Danny Kristo said. “We’ve just got to battle up here, stick together as a team and go back to work Monday.”
Wisconsin earned its first sweep of North Dakota in almost five years and its first at home in nearly seven years despite Kristo’s goals, scored in the second and third periods, respectively, to erase the Badgers’ 3-1 lead.
Less than four minutes after Kristo’s tying goal, however, Zengerle knocked home a loose puck in a scramble in front of the net. It was Wisconsin’s first shot on goal of the period, after almost 11 minutes of play.
“They seemed to capitalize on all of their chances,” Kristo said.
Said Zengerle: “We were a bit frustrated. As a line we weren’t generating very much offense and we spent most of the time in our own zone. We just tried to get back to basics and get people in front of the net.”
Joe Faust added to the Badgers’ lead with 3:22 remaining, which proved crucial when North Dakota’s Brock Nelson scored with 42.5 seconds left to cut the lead to 5-4.
Wisconsin scored on the power play (LaBate), at even strength (Ryan Little) and short-handed (John Ramage) to build a 3-1 lead after North Dakota’s Taylor Dickin opened the scoring.
“We were opportunistic in the offensive zone,” Eaves said. “And in our own zone, we have a saying — we say bend but don’t break. And we were like a big weeping willow tree being blown by a mighty wind. We didn’t break.”