MADISON, Wis. — Playing RIT, Minnesota State and Alaska-Anchorage is far from college hockey murderer’s row, but don’t expect Wisconsin to make any apologies for playing its best stretch of hockey of the season.
Not only are the Badgers continuing to put some crooked numbers on the scoreboard, they’ve now seen freshman goalie Joel Rumpel emerge as a pretty impressive young goaltender.
“He looks a lot more confident for sure,” said sophomore Mark Zengerle, one of four different scorers for Wisconsin in a 4-0 victory over Alaska-Anchorage Friday. “He looks patient in there and his rebound control has been looking really good. There were some shots today that were tough shots, a lot of deflections that he moved and got the save on.
“He was doing great before break as a freshman. Every since break, he’s been locking the door for us.”
Once alternating goalies in eight of the first nine series, the Badgers (11-10-2, 6-9-2 WCHA) appear to be going with the hot hand of Rumpel. Having started the last four games, Rumpel is 3-1-0, has saved 109 of 112 shots and posted two shutouts. He kicked out 23 shots against the Seawolves.
The last Wisconsin freshman goalie to accomplish that was Terry Kleisinger in 1980-81, the year after Rumpel’s uncle, Roy Schultz, was an All-American goaltender for Wisconsin.
“It’s pretty cool looking back at all the NHL goaltenders that have played here,” said Rumpel. “It’s definitely pretty humbling to play at a school like this. It’s really cool to see their legacy and hopefully, follow in their footsteps.”
As a result, Wisconsin continued its dominance over Alaska-Anchorage (6-13-2, 3-13-1), improving to 13-1-1 over the last 15 meetings, 17-2-1 in the last 20 games, and 22-3-1 over the last 26 games played in the series. More importantly, Wisconsin has won five of its last six and is starting to climb toward the top half of the conference.
“It’s nice to get on a roll a little bit,” said Rumple, whose team moved in front of idle Bemidji State into ninth place and two points behind North Dakota. “It’s nice to have that feeling, that confidence, coming into the second half.”
They’ll likely get there as long as junior Justin Schultz and Zengerle keep their high levels of production.
After being held scoreless in his last three games, just the fifth time in his UW career he has gone at least three games without a point and the first time since his freshman season, Schultz assisted on two goals and added a third-period tally to give himself 12 goals and 35 points, two points behind the nation’s leaders.
“[Schultz] knows he’s going to be back on the score sheet,” said UW coach Mike Eaves of Schultz, who is tied with Rob Andringa for ninth-most points all-time (104) among Wisconsin defensemen. “That’s who he is. That’s him playing to his strengths.”
Zengerle, the nation’s leader in assists per game (1.13) saw his point streak fall one short of the school record held by his head coach last Saturday, but scored the game-winning goal at 9:38 in the first period and assisted on the second and third goal to give himself 36 points, equaling his production from all of last season.
Both Zengerle and Schultz were shut out in Wisconsin’s 3-0 loss at Minnesota State last Saturday, further signifying their importance in the UW lineup.
“Mark was battling a little bit of the flu tonight and it’s interesting, sometimes the guys that have the flu play really good because they just settle down and don’t think about the game so much,” said Eaves. “Mark gave us a great effort tonight.”