MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin moved into some pretty good company in terms of home starts to the season, but it by no means was an easy trip.
The 14th-ranked Badgers increased their home unbeaten streak to 10 games Saturday with a 3-2 victory over Alabama-Huntsville at the Kohl Center, earning a weekend sweep.
That home unbeaten streak to start the season ranks only behind the 1972-73 Wisconsin team (18-0) and the 1981-82 Badgers (12-0-1) in program history. Both of those teams played in the national championship game.
Wisconsin (10-5-1) is 6-0 halfway through a 12-game home stand, but it had to hold off a gritty effort by the Chargers (1-19) to seal Saturday’s victory.
“We knew this stretch was going to be huge for us, especially with all the games at home,” Badgers forward Jefferson Dahl said. “Anytime you win, you start to build confidence.”
Goals by Dahl and Joseph LaBate 49 seconds apart early in the first period led Alabama-Huntsville coach Mike Corbett to call timeout and tell his players to relax.
“This is a great atmosphere and our kids, I don’t want them to be intimidated by it,” he said. “I want them to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. I think an atmosphere like this can be a positive for us.”
The Chargers never got close in terms of puck possession or shots on goal (Wisconsin led 45-20), but they gave the Badgers all they could handle where it counted.
Carmine Guerriero made 42 saves and the Chargers blocked 13 shots in front of him. They held the Badgers scoreless on five power-play chances.
It continued a trend of more positive efforts from Alabama-Huntsville on the second night of series, but the result was all-too-familiar.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Corbett said. “We’ve had the good Saturday nights, but this could have been a 10-0 game. We don’t want moral victories; we’re not playing like that. These kids are too prideful and they work too hard. We want to get some real victories, and that’s what we talked about.”
The Chargers scored their first goal of the weekend — the Badgers won 5-0 on Friday — on a five-on-three power-play goal by Chad Brears in the second period.
They weren’t able to get sustained pressure on the Badgers and goaltender Landon Peterson (18 saves), but they never let Wisconsin pull away.
“That shows to their coaching and the heart of their team. They just keep coming,” said Wisconsin’s Tyler Barnes, who scored with 2:02 remaining in the third period to give the Badgers breathing room. The Chargers’ Jack Prince negated that with an extra-attacker goal with 18.6 seconds remaining.
“Those teams are dangerous to play because they’re going to get a bounce or two here or there and they’re going to have a chance to run away with it,” Barnes said.
Corbett and the Chargers didn’t get the result they were looking for, but the coach said the team used this series as a second-half barometer.
Now, he said, the coaches know they can turn up the heat on the players to push them to victories and not just good efforts.
“They’re buying in and they show up every day,” Corbett said. “It’s great. This could be a lot worse. But I’ve got 20 prideful kids in there. They’re buying what we’re selling.”