MADISON - For the second night in a row, the Badgers found themselves down two goals against Northern Michigan. Saturday though, Wisconsin completed the comeback, scoring twice in the second period and the winning goal with just under four minutes left in the game, to clinch the 3-2 win and a series draw.
“Maybe that’s the unwritten character of this team early in the season,” head coach Mike Eaves said when asked about his team’s comeback. “Being young like that, sometimes with that naïveness they just expect to come back and keep playing, and they don’t think about it too much.”
Sophomores Tyler Barnes and Michael Mersch each scored to tie the game in the second period before junior Derek Lee netted the game winner in the third. Junior Justin Schultz grabbed an assist on all three scores.
It took less than four minutes for the Wildcats to put themselves on top to start the game. Senior Justin Florek, who also scored for NMU last night, netted the goal past freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel on the power play.
Rumpel, in his first collegiate start, held tight for the rest of the period until a Wildcat power play provided a 2-0 advantage on another Florek goal with just 17 seconds left before intermission.
The Badgers began the second period with aggression though, putting themselves in good opportunities to score early. No opportunity played out however until Barnes, on the power play, found the pipe and the net at the 11:54 mark of the second period.
Just over three minutes later, Mersch notched the equalizer, after collecting a deflected Schultz shot in front of the goal.
The third period proved largely uneventful until the final seven minutes of the game when NMU junior Scott Macaulay was penalized with a double minor and four minutes in the box at the 13:06 mark. The Badgers played patiently though in the power play, taking their chances carefully.
The man advantage was wiped out for Wisconsin however when Mersch picked up a roughing penalty with 5:12 remaining. Four-on- four though, the Badgers continued to play aggressive, as Lee, with 3:44 remaining, found the puck behind the net and took it in for the score with a wrap around shot.
“That was the same play just on the other side of the net,” Eaves said. “Last night the young man was left, tonight Derek Lee is right-handed and wraps it around.”
The goal gave the Badgers their first lead of the season.
Following a Mark Zengerle hooking penalty with 30 seconds left in the game, the Wildcats, having pulled their goaltender, put a six-on-four advantage on the ice. Rumpel and the Wisconsin defense played strong though, holding on for the team’s first victory of the season.
“I thought [Rumpel] was tentative in the first period, got a little better in the second and felt the puck a little bit more,” Eaves said. “I thought he was confident in the third period and that reflected our team.”
Schultz finished the night as the Badger’s leading scorer, collecting his first three points of the season.
“I’d credit that most to the players I was playing with,” Schultz said. “They made great plays. I made a simple play on one of them and didn’t do much on that goal.”
Mersch followed with two points, off the goal and an assist. Sophomore Mark Zengerle and freshman Joseph LaBate also picked up assists for Wisconsin. Zengerle’s assist was his first point of the year.
Rumpel completed his first game with 31 saves, while NMU’s sophomore goaltender Jared Coreau notched 25. Additionally, after going just 1-10 on the power play a night ago, the Badgers went 1-9 Saturday. The Wildcats were 2-6.
“As a group we’re getting better and becoming more comfortable with one another,” Lee said. “We’re building on our systems and everything’s slowly kind of coming in to one another. We’ve got a young team, but everybody’s growing, including the older guys, so it’s been a big confidence booster this weekend.”
The Badgers begin WCHA play next weekend as the team hits the road and heads for Michigan Tech. Both games in Houghton, Mich., Friday and Saturday are 6 p.m. start times.