With how things ended on Friday night everyone knew it wasn't going to be easy, but the Badgers went out on Saturday night and took care of business, winning 2-1 over Alaska-Anchorage. The victory allowed Wisconsin (11-8-5, 8-5-5 WCHA) to sweep the season series over the Seawolves (3-16-5, 1-15-4 WCHA) and stretched their WCHA unbeaten streak to 10 straight. It was a hard fought game to say the least and it could well be a sign of just how confident and good this Badgers team is here in the 2nd half.
“We’re maturing as a team," said Eaves following the victory. "We solved the riddle tonight in a way that we ended up with a ‘W’. I wish, and the players wish, that every game would be like last night. These are nights where you’ve got to find ways to solve the riddle, and it’s not always pretty, but we did it.”
More importantly the Badgers' 4 point weekend vaulted them to 4th place in the WCHA standings with 21 points. They are tied with North Dakota and Minnesota State in the 4th position and are just 4 points out of 1st place – something that seemed completely out of reach with how this season started out through November.
“The strides we’ve made over the year are pretty amazing," said Tyler Barnes. "We started out having a rough time and not playing well together. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve changed is we’ve gotten used to the guys we’re playing with and we have more trust in the guys we’re playing with. Things are going more smoothly and the hard is still there and that’s where we need to keep the focus.”
On Saturday, things didn't exactly start out the way the Badgers were hoping as everyone involved with Wisconsin hockey would probably have liked to have that one back. Wisconsin held UAA to just 7 shots in the period, which is pretty darn effective defense, however the offense was, well…. offensive, recording just 3 shots on goal. Both teams also recorded a penalty and the score was 0-0 following the 1st 20 minutes of action at the Kohl Center.
Clearly the Badgers' lackluster performance didn't sit well with Eaves or the rest of the staff.
“It wasn’t 212 (degrees)—which is steam," Eaves said. "It was firm in that I said, ‘we’ve been here, we know that we’re better, and we need to go out there and go back to basics, so it was more of a reminder.”
Whatever was said in that locker room it woke up the Wisconsin offense for sure as just 1:21 into the 2nd period Wisconsin's Tyler Barnes slotted home his 6th goal of the season to give the Badgers the 1-0 lead on a nice cut to the net on the rush and was fed by Jefferson Dahl, allowing him to poke it home. Dahl and Nic Kerdiles were credited with assists on the goal.
Barnes must really love playing against the Seawolves as his goal was the 2nd of the weekend and 3rd against UAA this season.
It wasn't just a fluke outpouring of offense either as it took the Badgers just over 3 minutes to double up their lead thanks to a nice effort from forward Jefferson Dahl at 4:31 of the period. It was his 4th effort of the season and made it 2-0. Assists went to Brad Navin and Frankie Simonelli.
Dahl's name would continue to matter big time in this game and especially in the 2nd period as late in the action he was called for a holding penalty. Unfortunately, the Seawolves capitalized on the penalty and pushed the game back into the uncomfortable column for Bucky, cutting the lead to 2-1 on a back door goal by Jordan Kwas with just one minute to go in the period.
That would be the final scoring of the game though as Landon Peterson showed why he's not out of the running for playing time between the pipes, stopping 21 of 22 shots on him for the game. He came up especially huge in the 3rd period as the Seawolves had some great opportunities on their 7 shots on goal.
Defense was the key to the series as the Seawolves had a high of only 8 shots in a period for the entire weekend at the Kohl Center. With the win Peterson improved his record to 5-2-2 on the season.
The only blemish to the weekend was news that Derek Lee was injured in the series finale on Saturday night. Unfortunately no news came out after the game on the extent of his injury and ahead of a big weekend coming up the Badgers really need to be at full strength.
Up next for Wisconsin is a huge battle, not just because it's a rival, but because of points as they travel to Grand Forks, ND to take on North Dakota next weekend. Both teams are tied for 4th place in the standings and if either team can avoid a split series it'll allow them a nice leg up on the competition.