MADISON, Wis. — Brad Navin could not have asked for an easier first career goal.
Early in the first period, on Wisconsin’s first power play of the game, sophomore defensemen Frankie Simonelli sent a shot into traffic and the freshman forward simply had to tip it in at the 5:49 mark, putting the Badgers on top 1-0.
“It was a nice step forward for Brad tonight, to get that first goal, but he’s been coming, his game has been opening up,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “You see the confidence level in a couple different areas. Now when he goes and hits, he hits with authority. He’s making his decisions quickly, he’s shooting the puck with authority. You can just see the youth starting to wane away a little bit and a college hockey player just starting to emerge.”
Navin was not the only Badger having a good night, but Wisconsin (7-8-2, 4-7-2 WCHA) was not able to translate its solid night into a win, drawing a 3-3 tie with No.1 Minnesota-Duluth (11-3-3, 9-2-2 WCHA) which extended its unbeaten streak to 13 games.
It would be easy to say the unranked Badgers cannot complain about the outcome, as they stayed so close to the No.1 Bulldogs, but after leading 2-0 after the first, 3-2 in the third and their small reputation for upsetting top-five teams at home, UW would like to disagree.
“We talked about that as a team, because there is a side where we’re happy with the point against the No. 1 team in the country,” Eaves said. “There’s also that fine line where we need to be satisfied, where we need to take — we had a 3-2 lead in our own building and it slipped away — and we need to take that and build on that.”
Navin’s goal was the lone power-play score of a contest filled with penalties. In the second period alone, there were nine penalties between the two teams.
Wisconsin’s power play was moving the puck and staying in control the best it had all season, but the one small problem was UW was only able to score on one of its eight power plays, as UMD filled shooting lanes and blocked shots from the slot.
“I think we came to the bench the one time, we were kind of laughing because we had so many chances,” sophomore forward Mark Zengerle said. “Our power play was moving around and everyone got touches on it and we were kind of just laughing at how we hadn’t scored yet. Our power play was great today. It’s kind of frustrating when you’re not getting them, but it finally did come.”
The third period could not have epitomized Wisconsin’s season any better.
Led by all-American junior defensemen Justin Schultz and Zengerle — who extended his point streak to 16 games — the Badgers took the 3-2 lead and another No.1 upset seemed within reach.
As Wisconsin was coming off a power play, Zengerle brought out a rebound and centered it to Schultz, who shot the puck past UMD senior goalie Kenny Reiter from the blue line 28 seconds in.
Three minutes later, it was a tie game, as Duluth’s freshman forward Caleb Herbert made the puck soar past Rumpel, who did not move to defend it under the impression Herbert was going to be called for a high stick. The score became 3-3 and it would stay that way the rest of the night.
After being down 2-0 going into the second period, UMD started to show its poise and ultimately remind UW (and itself) why it won a national title a year ago. About two minutes into the second, Bulldogs’ senior defensemen Scott Kishel made it 2-1. Two minutes and 17 seconds later, UMD junior defensemen Wade Bergman slipped the puck five-hole on freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel to make the game an even 2-2.
“They won it all last year, and they know how to win,” Schultz said. “They know how to win on the road especially. I think we’re young, but I think we’re figuring it out. It’s going to take time, but I think we’re almost there. It was a good game tonight.”
Eaves said he was pleased with his squad’s efforts — especially coming off a bye week, but a two-goal lead is never something to be comfortable with.
“It was the best case scenario that we could hope for,” Eaves said. “We got some goals, but when you’ve been around this game long enough, you realize 2-0 is the falsest lead in the game of hockey.”
Regardless of UW’s inability to put the win away, there’s still something about the Kohl Center that slows down these top-five teams. Maybe it is simply Wisconsin’s ability to push themselves against the nation’s best, but either way, No.1 Minnesota-Duluth is — in a sense — another one of UW’s victims.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said no matter the rankings, knowing what Wisconsin is capable of at home would always be in the back of the Bulldogs’ heads. Simply put, it is the WCHA, anything can happen.
“It’s not easy to not have that in your head,” Sandelin said. “Kids are kids, we’re all human, but I’m proud of our kids being there, they’ve earned that. But at the same time we’ve talked about that being more of a motivator to keep pushing yourself to get better — any team you play in this league is extremely difficult — it doesn’t matter what their records are.”