MADISON – Head Coach Mike Eaves didn’t waste any time when asked Monday if Scott Gudmandson was playing the best hockey of his four-year career.
Combine the way the senior goalie was handling the puck, stopping the puck and communicating with his defensemen, Eaves said there was no question that Gudmandson was playing with a head full of confidence.
Simply put, Canisius had no chance to slow him down. Gudmandson was near perfect in the first meeting between the two schools, stopping multiple odd-man rushes in the opening period and buckling down for the final 40 minutes, giving No.13 Wisconsin plenty of leeway to grind its way to a 3-0 victory in front of 12,791 at the Kohl Center.
It’s hard to pick a hotter goal tender in the country than the one between the pipes for Wisconsin (13-7-3). In the last eight games, Gudmandson is 7-1-0 with six straight wins and had held opponents to two goals or less each contest.
During Gudmandson’s six game winning streak, the Sherwood Park, Alberta native is stopping .954 percent of his shots and allowing only 1.2 goals per game.
“We know that if we make a mistake, he’s going to be there to bail us out,” said UW sophomore Justin Schultz. “There doesn’t seem like a game where he’s not on.”
It’s also harder to pick a player that has come more full circle than Gudmandson, especially with the brightness of the spotlight on his position. The knock on him early in his career was that Gudmandson would let an early goal fester, and come back to bite him as the game progressed.
After the odd-man rushes early, the closest Canisius (6-9-4) came to beating Gudmandson after the second was when senior winger Vincent Scarsella rattled one off the right post with six minutes remaining.
“He made the save we needed to have,” Eaves said of Gudmandson, who leads the WCHA with a 1.77 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in all games. “He didn’t have a lot of work, but he was mentality focused, ready and sharp.
“His mental focused right through the game has been a real asset for him and allowed him to play at the level he’s playing at.”
All Gudmandson needed was a little offense, which Schultz provided late in the first period. With the Badgers grinding through a lethargic opening frame, Schultz did the majority of work himself for his 12th goal, skating into the slot and flicking a shot past Tony Capobianco (37 saves) at 5:33.
The rest of the night was a struggle for the second highest scoring team in the WCHA. Despite scoring 3.55 goals per game, the Badgers fired 51 shots – 24 on goal – through two periods and were getting little production and having less flow.
“I thought we fought ourselves a little bit,” Eaves said
Consider that a nod toward Canisius, which spent much of the last eight days stewing over its poor effort in a 10-2 loss at Notre Dame Dec.29 and spent very little time doing game planning against the Badgers.
“I wanted to play to our potential,” Coach Dave Smith said. “I wanted to see us play our game.”
When the Badgers finally got some insurance, Craig Smith mirrored Schultz, rifling one close to the same spot Capobianco was beaten earlier to boost the Wisconsin edge to 2-0 at 9:43 in the third.
“We got off course after a couple minutes in the first,” said Craig Smith. “After that, we just came in, regrouped and stuck with our game.”
Any hope of a comeback for Canisius was dashed in the final three minutes, when the Griffins took two penalties in 24 seconds and paid the price when Jordy Murray knocked in a rebound with 88 seconds remaining.
The Badgers held the Golden Griffins to 18 shots, tying a season low, and zero shots on a struggling power play unit that is 11-for-89 on the season.
“We had some real good chances, a couple odd-man rushes at different times, that could have changed the game,” Dave Smith said. “The script went in their favor tonight, but I thought from our goaltender on out, we had a chance and were in the game.”
It was a grinder that could come useful in March for Wisconsin. According to USCHO’s Pairwise Rankings, a system that mimics the 16-team NCAA Tournament field, the Badgers’ latest victory has boosted them to 11th, and given UW victories that will yield results all the way to March.
“These are tough games to win,” Craig Smith said. “They’ll go back in their conference and they’ll end up beating some pretty good teams, so that’ll be huge if we get a game (like) that.”