After spending the last month away from home, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team made a triumphant return to the Kohl Center Friday night, knocking off No. 8 Miami (OH) 1-0.
Both teams came out of the blocks playing at a quick tempo. The Redhawks that held a 12-7 advantage in the shot department, including one power play opportunity, but emerged with nothing to show for it.
However, in the eyes of Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves, Miami had the early edge, even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect that fact.
“I thought their pace in the first period gave us fits. We weren’t prepared for that. They play a 200-foot game. They hunt down the puck, whether they have it or not, 200-feet, and that’s what good hockey teams do,” Eaves said. “They take away time and space and play at a high tempo. I think it took us until the second period before we adjusted to that.”
The second period saw Wisconsin squander its only power play opportunity of the game. UW mustered just four shots in the frame, but held a decisive edge in the faceoff circle, winning 17 of 19 draws.
Joseph LaBate finally ended the scoring drought at 11:32 of the third when he took a full head of steam up the left side and snuck a shot past Miami’s Jay Williams. The score was LaBate’s fourth of the season.
“[Michael Mersch] crossed the ice which dropped the defenseman back and opened up space for me,” LaBate said. “So, I kept skating and I heard [Lee] telling me to keep skating and I just took it in, tried to get a shot on net and it went in.”
The clutch delivery was a long time in the making for the sophomore forward, at least as far as Eaves was concerned.
“Joseph and his line mates have been a pretty good line for us for awhile. They have good chemistry. What Joseph has started to develop into is more of an impact player. He’s assertive in his play, he’s stronger on his skates and his stick and he’s shooting the puck more,” Eaves said. “Tonight was a direct result of keeping his feet moving and shooting it—maybe before the goalie was quite ready for it and as a result it found its way in.”
With a new found sense of urgency, the Redhawks created a few opportunities in the latter moments of the game, but, ultimately, were unable to solve Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel.
Rumpel stood tall for the Badgers, recording 26 saves en route to his third shutout of the season. The sophomore goaltender, who started the season as the usual starter on Friday nights, received his first start in game one of a series since Nov. 30. Eaves had a gut feeling that Rumpel needed to be between the pipes tonight.
“The tell-tale sign in my own head, about who to start, was how Rumpel played last Saturday. You had the 36 shots and I thought he got out and handled the puck well,” Eaves said. “He was sharp, he was precise in his movements, which lent itself to saying he’s playing well and he’s on top right now.”
With the win, Wisconsin moves to 9-7-5 overall.
The same two teams will close out the series Saturday night. Eaves knows that, despite previous success, there is still business to be handled.
“That game tonight exposed us to a level that we need to strive for and play at all the time. We said to the boys tonight, what if? If we’re in the playoffs, we’re in a regional tournament or in the Frozen Four, you win one big game, you have to win another one,” Eaves said. “We have that opportunity this weekend to play a quality opponent in back-to-back nights and prepare for that type of mindset.”