MADISON, Wis. — It took until the first game of its fourth home series, but Wisconsin can finally enjoy the taste of success in its home locker room.
Starting the season 0-5-1 at home (the longest home winless streak to begin a season in program history), the Badgers got two goals apiece from junior Michael Mersch and freshman Nic Kerdiles in a 5-0 feel-good victory over Alabama-Huntsville Thursday that finally gave the home team a measure of satisfaction.
“I think [it's] the first night we’ve been able to use our sound system to the fullest after a game,” said UW junior Sean Little. “To get that off our back is really nice. The hockey gods are making us earn all these new things that we have.”
The offseason was one of cosmetic change for the Badgers. Moving into a new state-of-the-art locker room and practicing in a first-class, on-campus facility that puts them at the forefront of recruiting, Wisconsin had everything it could want, except victories to enjoy them in.
It’s been one of those bizarre seasons for the Badgers (3-7-5), who have won only three games, but are on a five-game unbeaten streak (2-0-3) for the first time since January 2010.
“I think the word would be satisfying,” said Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves. “Hopefully, that ship has turned and we have some wind at our back now.”
Through 14 somewhat frustrating games, Wisconsin was averaging 1.9 goals per contest and saw its power play clicking at a meager 11 percent, including 3-for-36 the last 11 games.
Both of those numbers improved quickly.
After Kerdiles scored his first collegiate goal at the four-minute mark, Mersch finished off a tic-tac-toe passing series with a one-timer that zipped through the legs of UAH goalie John Griggs (27 saves) on the man-advantage.
After failing to score more than two goals in four home games, Wisconsin had two tallies in the first 6:43.
“It was huge for us,” said Mersch, whose first goal was his team-best 10th on the season and third on the power play. “A lot of guys contributed tonight and that’s pretty big for us.”
But for a team that has failed to win five games in which it entered the third period with a one-goal lead, insurance was needed and provided courtesy of Mersch with help from linemate Derek Lee. Faking a wrap around, Lee got Griggs looking the other direction, setting up Mersch with a wide-open net for a 3-0 lead at 14:29.
It was a snapshot of how the night went for Alabama-Huntsville (3-13-1), who had three defenders standing with their focus on Lee and left Mersch unmarked.
“Generally, when a group is as bad as we were tonight, there is a reason for it,” said UAH coach Kurt Kleinendorst. “That third goal to me was totally indicative of how we were playing.”
Little and Kerdiles added goals in the first 4:31 of the third period to complete the scoring, as Wisconsin’s top two lines were responsible for four of the goals while the bottom two lines brought some desired energy.
“We were crisp,” said Eaves. “If something was there, we took it. I thought we protected the puck well for the most part. Our defensemen did a really good job at getting pucks to the net tonight.”
Giving up 30.4 shots on the season, Wisconsin’s defense had a banner night, holding UAH to only one shot on goal through the first 10 minutes and nine shots overall. Sophomore goalie Landon Peterson rarely had to be spectacular in stopping every shot.
In games against NCAA Division I opponents this season, the Chargers have been outscored 66-15 and have converted 10.3 percent on the power play (6-for-58).
“How did we lose? Horribly,” said Kleinendorst. “Horribly. We just weren’t very good.”