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Given a high national ranking in the preseason, Wisconsin lived up to that billing while getting a couple of monkeys off its back. The Badgers followed up a 5-2 victory in the season opener with a 2-1 victory on Saturday. Wisconsin’s win Friday was the first in a season opener since 2007; their 2-0 start is the first since 2004 and only the second under Mike Eaves and UW swept Northern Michigan for the first time since November 1996.
What’s the Impact
On a weekend where No.1 UMass-Lowell lost at home to a Sacred Heart team that went 2-30-4 last season (including 0-19-2 on road), the Badgers avoided a stumble and will move up to No.2 in the national polls tomorrow.
“The previous years we started off 0-1 and you’re just starting in the gutter a little bit mentally and as far as your record goes,” senior Mark Zengerle said. “All of us seniors were talking about that previously so it’s nice to get that start. Our goal for the weekend is to go 2-0.”
Who was the Weekend MVP
Freshman Grant Besse. On a weekend where Wisconsin scored seven goals, Besse was the only one who scored multiple times, and his goal Saturday night was the winner. With 3:35 remaining, Besse, a true freshman who was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey last season at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, drove up the left wing and fired a shot that Wildcats goaltender Michael Doan kicked out with his left pad.
The puck went back into Besse’s path, and he corralled it with his right skate before backhanding it into an empty net.
“Michael [Mersch] took that hit and took the defenseman out of the play and left the puck there,” Besse said. “That’s what created the two-on-one and ultimately created the goal.”
With a team of nine seniors and seven juniors, a true freshman sticking out is certainly impressive.
Three Areas of Concern
Penalties: The referees were either out to get both teams on Friday night or the Wildcats and Badgers were just sloppy. Either way, head coach Mike Eaves said the Badgers have got to be better and stay out of the box after being penalizes nine times. They were much improved on Saturday with only two penalties for four minutes.
Faceoffs: Overall it wasn’t a bad performance in the circle for the Badgers (winning 32 of 70 on Friday and 32 of 57 on Saturday) but as the season moves on UW will want to have the faceoff advantage.
Rumpel: Rumpel being mentioned showed how many things went right and few things went wrong for the Badgers against Northern Michigan. Rumpel got his first start on Saturday and stopped 20 of 21 shots, but Eaves said Rumpel played average because of his struggles to contain loose pucks around the net.
“It seemed many times during the night that when he went to put his glove on the puck it squirted away,” Eaves said, “and he had to make three or four more saves because of that.”
Three Areas of Excitement
Penalty Kill: Although the Badgers were seemingly in the penalty box all Friday night long, they killed off almost all of them. The Badgers were 7-for-9 on the PK and looked good. Northern Michigan would have had three goals on the power play if it weren’t for a too many men in the crease penalty.
UW even capitalized on a short-handed opportunity in the first period to push the score to 2-0. While having that many penalties was bad, Eaves did like that he was able to play a lot of young players throughout the game.
“To start, we had way too many penalties that’s for sure,” said junior Jake McCabe said. “They are getting a little more strict this year about the holding calls and the stick penalties so we’ve got to tighten up there. Our best penalty kill is not to get penalties first of all, but we adapted throughout the game with our rotation there. We were blocking shots so it was good to see.”
Badgers killed off both penalties on Saturday night.
Going streaking: After adding two assists on Friday, sophomore center Nic Kerdiles scored UW’s first goal Saturday to extend his point streak to 14 games dating back to Feb. 24 of last season. It’s one of the top 10 longest point streaks in school history.
On the attack: The Badgers outshot the Wildcats on both nights (38-20 in game one and 29-22 Saturday) and were all over the ice getting after many loose pucks. If that continues to be the case, the entire season UW will be able to hold its own.
“There’s the psyche of winning that allows you to press forward with your coaching and your teaching. I think you can be more demanding because the kids feel good about the fact that they won.” – Mike Eaves.
The Badgers are going to become road worries over the course of the next month, and the venues are going to be challenging. Wisconsin plays at a pair of Hockey East opponents this weekend: Boston College on Friday night and at Boston University on Saturday.
The Eagles (1-1-0) have won six of the last seven meetings dating back 2001, including both games at Chestnut Hill (the lone victory was a 2-1 decision in Milwaukee in the 2006 NCAA title game). The Eagles opened the season ranked fourth in the preseason poll.
The Badgers have played the Terriers (2-0-0) only once since 2001 (a 4-3 Boston victory in St. Louis in the 2010 season opener). Boston U. was ranked No.19 in the preseason poll.
Publisher Benjamin Worgull contributed to this report