MADISON, Wis. – Between dealing with a fourth bye week of the season, a lack of practice time because of exams and the holidays, and without its top offensive weapons, No. 14 Wisconsin had plenty working against it. One never would have known.
The Badgers opened the unofficial start to the second half of the season with goals from five different sources in a 5-0 victory over Alabama-Huntsville Friday.
“We did come in with limited ice time, limited practice, but I think guys did a great job over break of making sure they were ready and staying sharp and focused,” said senior Keegan Meuer, who scored the game winner at 6:14 in the first. “We took our time yesterday very seriously. We have a message as a team … to come out 3-0, take it one game at a time. We need to make some hay while the sun’s shining.”
Wisconsin (9-5-1) improved to 8-0-1 at home despite sophomore Nic Kerdiles being in Sweden with defending gold medalist Team USA in the World Junior Championships that began Thursday.
In addition to Meuer, senior forward Michael Mersch scored a goal in his sixth consecutive game, freshman forward Morgan Zulinick, getting extended ice time because of Kerdiles absence, scored his first career goal in his 21st career game, and goalie Joel Rumpel made nine saves for his eighth career shutout to tie for fourth on UW’s all-time shutout list.
“It’s keeping your mind in the game,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said of the challenge for Rumpel. “It becomes a mental battle to keep yourself focused and not wander off and think about the smell of popcorn from the stands or that type of thing. He did a pretty good job.”
Dominating shots 55-9, Wisconsin led 2-0 after the first period and 25-0 in shots, holding an opponent without a shot in a period for the first time since Dec. 30, 2002. Wisconsin also tied the school record with nine shots allowed in a game. Ironically, that also came in a 5-0 win against Alabama-Huntsville.
“It was good to go out there and have a solid start,” said Rumpel. “A fortunate bounce and we were able to score quick. Once you start with a little bit of confidence, everybody feeds off it and we were able to use that and come out with a good first period.”
The Chargers (1-18) were behind the eight ball before the game even started since Alex Allan, one of four seniors, was scratched because his equipment was misplaced en route from Calgary to Chicago, not arriving in time. That forced Alabama-Huntsville to skate 11 freshmen, who did little damage against Wisconsin’s senior laden lineup.
“We’re kind of offensively challenged,” said UAH coach Mike Corbett. “We don’t sustain a lot of offense, so we’ve learned to play strong defense, keep the puck to the outside, but like I said, when you take 10 days off, these guys move the puck so well they’re going to wear us down.”
UAH starting goalie Matt Larose made 23 saves in the first period, but needed to receive stitches to close a cut. Carmine Guerriero finished the game with 27 saves.