MADISON, Wis. — Special teams provided the opportunities Saturday, and Wisconsin had the final answer.
Forced to kill the entire two minutes of a Rochester Institute of Technology power play with the same four players on the ice, the Badgers blocked and scrapped their way out of the jam.
Given a two-man advantage early in the third period of a tie game, they pushed their way into the lead for good.
Those elements laid the foundation of Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over RIT, delivered on defenseman Jake McCabe’s second goal of the weekend.
“It was a grind,” McCabe said. “We got through it.”
He was speaking of the drawn-out Tigers power play, but he might as well have been referencing the whole game for the Badgers (9-9-2), who returned to .500 for the first time since Nov. 11 by completing a non-conference series sweep.
RIT (10-8-2) had the first big chance to break a 1-1 tie in the second period when it forced Wisconsin’s penalty killers to stay on the ice for the length of Matt Paape’s elbowing minor, and then some.
Jefferson Dahl, Sean Little, McCabe and John Ramage took turns getting in the way of Tigers shots, with Little blocking three on his own. Not that he could keep count.
“I couldn’t tell you. I kind of blacked out about halfway through,” Little said. “That was absolutely the longest shift of my career.
“We were very fortunate that they didn’t score. … All four guys out there did not give a crap about their body and it was great to see.”
Tigers forward Mike Colavecchia had the best chance, but he missed an open net from the right circle.
“When we had them out there for two minutes and they’re tired, we had an open net and we put it over the net,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “So I was very happy with the power play, not that we controlled play but I thought it was just a good game — could have gone either way five-on-five but they won the special teams battle.”
The Badgers’ power-play chance came less than two minutes into the third, after a hooking minor to Daniel Spivak and, 39 seconds later, a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct to Greg Noyes.
Just after Spivak’s penalty ended — and before he could truly get back into the play — McCabe zinged a shot off the post and in from the top of the right circle.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do,” Badgers coach Mike Eaves said. “Right before the five-on-three started they got in a little circle, they were talking about our options and what we wanted to run. They went through each stage and executed and eventually scored the goal. Kudos to them; they did a tremendous job.”
Said Wilson: “There’s just times in a game when you’ve got to get things done, and they got it done when it was most needed.”
Each side claimed a second-period goal despite RIT attempting 26 shots to Wisconsin’s four, and both pucks entered the goal off the opponent’s leg.
Joseph LaBate got credit for the Badgers’ goal when his shot off a Tyler Barnes pass hit RIT’s Spivak and slipped past goaltender Jordan Ruby (17 saves).
The Tigers equalized on the power play less than five minutes later when Chris Saracino’s shot from the left side redirected off Ramage’s skate and past Joel Rumpel (21 saves).
RIT held Wisconsin to just two shots on goal in the second period; the Badgers went more than 16 minutes without forcing Ruby into a save.
“Sometimes that can take you off your game because you get frustrated [that] there’s no rhythm,” Eaves said. “Guys didn’t do that. We talked about being patiently persistent, and we stayed with the game plan. We got through that rough spot, which I think for this young team was a victory within a victory because it showed that we’re growing mentally.”