MADISON, Wis. — Skating in front of an empty net almost always provides a feeling of urgency. Wisconsin skated with an empty net for 5:42 to end the game — something undoubtedly uncommon in hockey.
In doing so, Wisconsin (7-9-2, 4-8-2 WCHA) was able to come within two goals of No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth (12-3-3, 10-2-2 WCHA) and avoid a home shutout, losing 4-2.
After freshmen goalie Joel Rumpel gave up four goals in a period and a half, fellow freshmen goaltender Landon Peterson took over. Peterson was solid through the second half of the second and the first half of the third, but the Badgers took a risk and went with six guys, trying to produce some more offense.
“I have to be honest with you, the six-on-three empty net was Gary Shuchuk’s idea,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
“It was an opportunity. It showed that we weren’t going to quit and that we were going to do everything to get ourselves back in the game. We were able to execute and get the puck in the net.”
And they certainly did.
In a string of UMD penalties, the Badgers kept six skaters on the ice and caught a lucky break when UMD defensemen Drew Olson got a five-minute major for checking from behind and went into the locker room with a game misconduct. With time, freshman forward Brad Navin found the back of the net on a centering pass in the slot from junior defensemen Justin Schultz at the 12:41 mark. The goal was Navin’s second of the series and of his career.
About five minutes later Badgers sophomore forward Mark Zengerle extended his point streak to 17 games when he finally collected on several rebounds, drawing the Badgers within two with 2:30 left to go.
After tying the Bulldogs 4-4 in game one, Eaves was hoping that his squad would take a big step forward in game two.
That didn’t happen. The Bulldogs outplayed the Badgers from the drop of the puck.
“Tonight, we were hopeful about taking that next level step, but I don’t think we took a step back to where we started, by any stretch of the imagination,” Eaves said. “We were hopeful we’d be able to build off of last night, but they had a great start and we didn’t. What was disappointing was that we didn’t take that mental step to come out and be that dictating team. That’s just a sign that we’re not ready for that step. We’re still awfully young.”
UMD went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead off a Jack Connolly goal — who finished the night with three points — that was actually deflected in the net off of Schultz’s shin guard.
Ten minutes and 31 seconds into the second period, Mike Seidel slipped another one by Rumpel, giving the Bulldogs a 4-0 lead. The Bulldogs ended with 29 shots on goal, outshooting the Badgers in the first two periods, 22-14.
“I thought the first two periods tonight were some of our better periods just because of our energy,” UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. “We had to work on some special teams stuff at the end.”
“We kind of put ourselves in a little bit of stranglehold there in the second when they got a few quick goals,” Zengerle said. “It’s tough to come back from that. We gave it what we had, but it’s tough to come back on a good team like that when we were down 4-0.”
While the young Badgers managed to capitalize on two of their seven power plays and get a total of 31 shots on goal — the bulk of which game in the third with 17 — UMD goaltender Kenny Reiter was exceptional, making 29 saves on the night.
His most notable save was a one-on-one on Tyler Barnes. Barnes collected a forward pass from Schultz and had the defense beat. Reiter laid out to stop the breakaway goal, keeping his team comfortably ahead.
As the Badgers continue to struggle to find the results they want, the team is still trying to find answers.
“I think it’s something we’re still searching for,” John Ramage said. “It’s happened to us a couple times; we’re going to get back to work and figure this out, because this is something that we need to find out about our team.”
Eaves is simply waiting for certain moments to be more consistent, which will come with time.
“We told the boys in the locker room right after, ‘We want to be very clear with you where we stand right now,’” Eaves said “‘We like this group of young men that we have in our locker room. We see moments that are very encouraging. Those moments have to be more consistent, and that consistency is going to come as we grow up together.’”