MADISON, Wis. — After seeing the country’s best defenseman put up three points in a Friday night victory, Alaska-Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak quipped that big players, like Wisconsin junior defenseman Justin Schultz, make big plays in big situations.
It was evident that in such an even contest, like the one the two schools were in Saturday, it was a guy like Wisconsin’s playmaker making a big difference.
Deadlocked in a 2-2 tie, Schultz made another one of those plays that has earned him national recognition, assisting on the game-winning goal at the 15:57 mark to give Wisconsin a 3-2 victory, its first WCHA series sweep in three months.
“He’s so competitive that he wants to be out there,” junior Derek Lee said of Schultz. “It showed tonight once again. Every night he shows he’s a game changer.”
One the ice for all seven Wisconsin (12-10-2, 7-9-2 WCHA) goals on the weekend, Schultz has been on the ice for 53 of Wisconsin’s 76 goals this season, a list that includes 20 of 25 power-play goals and nine of 12 game-winning goals.
“He’s a legit Hobey Baker candidate,” said Shyiak. “He’s an effortless skater.”
Few goals were more important for a young Wisconsin team still looking for experience than the only goal in the third period.
After trading punches for the majority of three periods, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves burned his timeout not to call a play for the final 4:47 of regulation, but to get the right line combination on the ice and relieve some players of their tired legs.
There were no instructions — other than to take what was given and get some pucks to the net.
“It was in their hands,” said Eaves. “We made it a play. Justin still has some juice in his legs.”
The decision yielded the right end results. Schultz skated to the right of the post, drawing Seawolves goalie Chris Kamal (26 saves) snug to the post, and backhanded the pass behind him to a charging Joseph LaBate. Before Kamal could skate back into position, LaBate fired a blast from the right circle for his fifth goal of the season and the decisive game-winner.
To add icing on the cake, Mark Zengerle — UW’s other Hobey Baker nominee — was given the second assist.
“It kind of stabs you in the heart,” said Shyiak. “I felt our guys deserved some points in this game.”
After the final 76 seconds ticked off with the Seawolves (6-14-2, 3-14-1) failing to convert with an extra attacker, it gave Wisconsin its first WCHA series sweep since taking two from North Dakota October 21-22, 2011. More importantly, Wisconsin heads to Grand Forks, N.D., next weekend, having won six of its last seven.
“We hope this helps us mature as a team,” Eaves said. “We didn’t come out and play nearly as hard or as effective as we needed to, which was disappointing. We come out tonight and we’re flat. To me, that’s a sign that we still haven’t matured to the point where we can come back to back and do the things necessary to be the type of team that’s going to get ourselves to where we want to be, to play championship hockey.”
Other than a 3:15 blip in the second period, neither team managed much offense. Sixteen seconds after Seawolves defenseman Austin Coldwell sniped in a power-play shot from the high slot to open the score against Badgers freshman goalie Joel Rumpel (25 saves), Wisconsin’s winger Tyler Barnes and Lee netted tallied goals within 63 seconds of each other.
The lead was short-lived when winger Curtis Leinweber backhanded the tying goal in at 6:51, and the Seawolves continued their solid job of pressuring Wisconsin’s defense, create turnovers and sustaining pressure.
“We’re both very good system teams trying to play defense — sometimes that’s how you have to play,” said Barnes. “The game doesn’t seem as flashy as it could be.”
Leave it to Schultz to change that moniker in a hurry.