MADISON, Wis. – Even as the Wisconsin men’s hockey team marched up the Big Ten standings and ascended to the top-five in the PairWise rankings, critics alleged that the Badgers were a different team away from the Kohl Center than they were at home.
While UW’s second-straight road win should take some wind out of the sails of that argument, Wisconsin (20-9-2, 11-5-1 Big Ten) certainly looked like a Jekyll-and-Hyde team on Friday, dominating the first 35 minutes of the contest before surviving a Penn State (6-23-2, 2-14-1 Big Ten) onslaught over the final 25 minutes to win, 4-2.
Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) and Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) were the stars of the night for the Badgers. Each tallied a goal and three assists to give the Badgers the final edge in an up-and-down game, and Zengerle’s empty-netter with six seconds left finally put the game away for UW.
For the first 35 minutes of the game, it seemed as though the Badgers were going out of their way to prove that everything they did well at home, they could replicate on the road.
There was the usual phenomenal goaltending by Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), who held PSU scoreless over the first 52:04 of the game. The power play continued its late season awakening, as the usual suspect, Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) found the back of the net on the man advantage to put UW up 1-0 early and earned his 20th goal of the year in the process.
And finally, the UW penalty kill remained stellar, foiling Penn State’s first two power plays to make it 30 successful road penalty kills in a row for the unit.
But Penn State wouldn’t go away, ending Rumpel’s 114:12 shutout streak and the penalty kill’s road penalty-kill streak in one fell swoop when Casey Bailey took a cross ice feed and finished past Rumpel from the left circle to trim the UW lead to 3-1 with 8:56 to play.
The Nittany Lions would strike again off a redirect score from Taylor Holstrom with a minute to go to bring themselves within a goal and force UW to sweat it out.
Luckily for UW, the Kerdiles-Zengerle combination was up to the challenge, as the duo combined for the empty-net goal that sealed the deal.
It was the first time that UW had two players with four points since Jan. 14, when Jefferson Dahl and Michael Mersch each hit the four-point mark. For Zengerle, his three assists moved him ahead of Doug Macdonald and Andrew Shier and into eighth place all-time on UW’s career assists leaderboard. He’s just three helpers behind No. 7 Tony Granato’s 120 assists.
He wasn’t the only Badger to rewrite the record books on Friday, as Mersch’s goal pulled him into a tie with Max Williams at No. 25 in career goal scoring at UW with 65 tallies.
Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) completed the banner night for the Barnes-Zengerle-Kerdiles line, punching in Kerdiles’ deflected shot to put UW on top, 2-0 in the first period. Barnes’ 11th goal of the season was also his first of the year away from the Kohl Center. Kerdiles would cash in on a delayed penalty with a wrister from the right circle in the second period to extend the lead to 3-0.
The win kept the Badgers alive in the Big Ten title race. They remain seven points behind conference-leading Minnesota, which took down Ohio State on Friday night. Both teams have three conference games to play.
Rumpel was spectacular in goal again for the Badgers, making a great stop to start the game and turning away three second-period breakaways. He finished with 24 saves.
With the victory, the Badgers reached the 20-win mark for the fourth time in five seasons, the eighth time over the last 12 years and the 36th time in school history.
The Badgers will look to make it three road wins in a row when they return to the ice on Saturday night at 6 p.m. (CT), looking for a sweep of the Nittany Lions.