Posted-October 11th, 2013 12:30 am
MADISON, Wis. – All offseason, Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves talked about how the “storms” his team faced at the beginning of last season would pay dividends during the 2013-14 campaign.
He couldn’t have been more right, as it was all clear skies and smooth sailing for the No. 3 Badgers (1-0-0) as they took down Northern Michigan (0-1-0), 5-2, on Friday night at the Kohl Center, while looking every bit the team that opened the season ranked near the top of the major polls.
“You go into the locker room after tonight’s game and we drew a ledger on the board,” Eaves said. “You are going to have pluses and minuses, but we had more pluses than minuses tonight, starting with goals for, and the message was to the boys that we haven’t played in five months. So, there were some things that we know we can do better, but we did more good things than poor things tonight.”
Wisconsin set the tone from the opening faceoff, putting the Wildcats in an early 3-0 hole behind three first-period goals from Joseph LaBate (Eagan, Minn.), Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.) and Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.). The scoring came from a variety of sources and in a number of ways, as the Badgers scored at even-strength, shorthanded and on the power play, all off of rebounds.
“We have said it since day one here that we always want a great start. The statistics say that 68 percent of all teams that score first win games, so you want to put those percentages in your favor,” Eaves said. “So having a great start, getting that start tonight, was a good thing.”
LaBate got the scoring started for Wisconsin after a Kerdiles shot bounced off NMU goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom and to the junior forward. LaBate then finished the Badgers’ first goal of the season.
The Badgers doubled their lead thanks to another rebound, as Kerdiles lost his stick at the UW blue line while bodying the puck out of the zone. Heading up ice while short-handed, Kerdiles kicked the puck to Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.), who took it the rest of the way before firing a turnaround shot from the left side. Dahlstrom was equal to the task, but once again UW was in the right spot at the right time as McCabe powered the ricochet into the net from point-blank range.
With a even-strength goal and a short-handed goal already to its credit, Wisconsin put the exclamation point on a dominant first period with a power-play goal from Mersch, who gathered the rebound from a Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) shot and blasted a shot past Dahlstrom to give UW a 3-0 advantage going into the first intermission.
“The first game of the season definitely takes a few shifts to get into. You either get hit or make a hit. I think that is a lot of our philosophy, to really get in that game mindset,” McCabe said. “We did have a great start, we put the puck behind the defenseman, we were winning races and battles. It was good to see, that is the start we needed.”
The Wildcats clawed back into the game in the second period, thanks to a power-play goal from CJ Ludwig with just over two minutes remaining in the frame. After Ryan Daugherty knocked the puck loose off the right post, it squirted through a cluster of players huddled in front of the Wisconsin net and found a wide-open CJ Ludwig, who easily converted to pull the Wildcats to within 3-1.
But the Badgers quickly quelled whatever comeback hopes the Wildcats had just over a minute later, as Zengerle threaded the needle and found Barnes, who beat Dahlstrom and restored Wisconsin’s three-goal lead going into the final period. The goal came during a delayed penalty and with UW skating with its goaltender pulled and an extra attacker.
Freshman Grant Besse (Plymouth, Minn.) put the finishing touches on Wisconsin’s offensive night with his first-career goal as a Badger, taking a pass from Jefferson Dahl (Eau Claire, Wis.) and finishing past Dahlstrom from straight-on to stretch the UW lead to 5-1.
The Wildcats made the final margin 5-2, as their ninth power play of the night netted their second power-play goal of the contest thanks to a Stephen Vigier tally.
It was a complete effort for the Badgers, as they got points from 10 different players and peppered the NMU net to the tune of a 38-20 advantage in shots on goal.
Defensively, Wisconsin looked strong on both the power play and penalty kill on a night where both units were tested.
The Badgers piled up seven power plays, netting a goal and creating numerous scoring opportunities, while the UW penalty kill faced nine NMU power plays and held the Wildcats mostly in check.
Wisconsin Junior goaltender Landon Peterson (Oregon, Wis.) got the start and made 18 saves for his first victory of the season, while NMU’s Dahlstrom made 33 stops in defeat.
Wisconsin returns to the ice at the Kohl Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday night looking to open its season with a sweep of Northern Michigan.