OXFORD, Ohio – The Wisconsin men’s hockey team had to wait 35 days to see Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) return to action after an early-season leg injury. It turned out to be well worth the wait, as the junior was spectacular in his comeback, helping the No. 12 Badgers (4-3-1) secure a comeback road win over No. 8 Miami (7-4-1) on Saturday night in Oxford, Ohio, 3-2.
After being shut down by star RedHawk goaltender Ryan McKay, Wisconsin came into the contest with a simple plan to spur their offense: get more traffic in front of the Miami net.
The strategy worked to perfection, as the Badgers netted three goals against a hot goalie who had only allowed two tallies on the last 116 shots he faced coming into Saturday’s contest.
Despite the satisfactory final results, this one was a back-and-forth battle for all 60 minutes.
The Badgers jumped on the board first when Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.), the nation’s highest-scoring defenseman, added to his season total when he lit the lamp to give the Badgers their seventh power-play goal of the season. The Badgers relished a 1-0 first-period lead.
Miami came out with a vengeance in the second stanza, however, and netted a pair of goals in the period. The first came at the 5:01 mark, when the RedHawks answered UW’s power-play goal with one of their own off the stick of Blake Coleman. Miami continued to press its advantage and took its first lead of the night at 14:28, when Austin Czarnik used nifty stick-handling one-on-one on a Badger defender and finished five-hole to beat Rumpel.
But as they have so many times before, the Badgers fought back.
After more than nine scoreless minutes to begin the final period, the Badgers earned the equalizer courtesy of Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.), who kept after a loose puck in front of the RedHawk net. Morgan Zulinick’s initial shot hit off the cross bar and Mersch battled to knock the puck over the line to even the score and set the stage for UW’s game-winner. It was the 50th goal of Mersch’s career, making him the 50th UW player to reach to plateau.
Like last season in UW’s victory over Miami, Joseph LaBate (Eagan, Minn.) was the hero, giving the Badgers a 3-2 lead with just 4:43 left to play, which ultimately proved to be the difference. The goal was set up by LaBate’s relentless effort. First, Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) took the puck and drew a penalty on a near breakaway. He got a soft shot off that McKay stopped. LaBate, trailing the play, was checked to the ground but fought back to his feet in time to capture the rebound. Despite getting little mustard on a sharp-angle shot, LaBate beat McKay when the puck rolled up and over the goaltender and into the net.
Thanks to the spectacular performance by Rumpel, who punctuated his return with a stellar pair of third-period saves on RedHawk breakaways, the one-goal lead was all the Badgers would need.
Rumpel finished his night with 32 saves on 34 shots. McKay had 23 saves on 26 UW shots.
The Badgers continued their strong performance on special teams, going 1-6 on the power play. Miami netted one goal on four power plays for the night.
The road win was the first of the season for UW, and also their first win of the year over a top-10 team. Wisconsin is off for a weekend before opening Big Ten play and taking on Minnesota on Nov. 29-30 in Minneapolis.