The Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings after this weekend show that the Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team has edged away from a three-team tie to retake sole possession of first place.
Still, that does not tell the whole story of the Badgers’ performance against Minnesota-Duluth this weekend on the road, where UW split a two-game set against a lesser team of the conference.
A decisive 7-2 victory Friday night was followed by a 4-1 loss Saturday, leaving the Badgers (14-6-2 WCHA, 19-7-2 overall) with questions of where they stand, even though the answer would appear to be in first place.
Heading into this weekend, the Badgers had the opportunity to reestablish themselves in the WCHA and take a four-point lead over both Denver and Minnesota. It was only three weeks ago that the Badgers had an eight-point lead over both teams.
Friday night it appeared as though UW was poised to have a big weekend. Six different Badgers scored goals, and freshman goalie Shane Connelly earned his first collegiate victory with 28 saves.
A 1-1 tie in the first period lasted only 46 seconds before junior Andrew Joudrey’s sixth goal of the season gave UW a 2-1 lead. Freshman Ben Street headlined the rest of the Badgers’ attack Friday night, scoring his seventh and eighth goals of the season, as well as adding an assist.
Seniors Adam Burish and Tom Gilbert both scored Friday, as did juniors Robbie Earl and Ross Carlson. The win stretched the Badgers’ unbeaten streak on the road to a record 11 games.
Connelly, who is filling in while junior goalie Brian Elliott recovers from a left leg injury, said after Friday’s game that the Badgers were primed to “start rolling again,” but the results Saturday night quickly scuttled those plans.
The Badgers, who, heading into the weekend, were first in the conference against the powerplay (88 percent), allowed Duluth to convert 3-of-6 chances with an advantage. The Bulldogs entered the series with a power play conversion rate of 15 percent, second lowest in the WCHA.
“Their power play beat our power play,” UW head coach Mike Eaves told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the loss, his team’s first on the road (10-1-1).
The Badgers, down 1-0, tied the game in the second period on sophomore Joe Pavelski’s team-leading 15th goal of the season. But Wisconsin was doomed by poor play on special teams and the goaltending of senior Isaac Reichmuth, who had 31 saves.
“We couldn’t score goals [and] passes weren’t being connected,” said Burish, the team captain. “Guys weren’t keeping the game simple.”
The Badgers will find out the consequences of this weekend’s erratic play next week. Minnesota and Denver, two points removed from first place, get their shots against teams near the bottom of the WCHA.
UW, not playing within its conference, probably wishes it had that chance again.