After dropping its first two games against rival Minnesota last weekend, Wisconsin took care of business on their home ice in their first Big Ten home Conference games. Wisconsin won in blowout fashion on Friday, 7-1 and a tight 4-3 win on Saturday.
The Badgers came out slowly on Friday but picked up their play as the game wore on. "Everyone was giving the energy (but) things weren't clicking at first," forward Michael Mersch said. "Some games aren't always going to be the prettiest. We found a way to put seven goals on the board. It's not the easiest thing to win college hockey games every night, but when you can come out with a win like that when you didn't play your best game that's good."
The Badgers struck early Friday on a Grant Besse goal from Sean Little just three minutes into the first period. They struck two times in the period, but an unmarked Tommy Olczyk cut the game to 2-1. Despite the slow start, UW came out ready to play in the next two periods and scored five goals to dominate the rest of the game.
Saturday night's start was more like what head coach Mike Eaves was looking for out of his team.
"Our start was better in that we got everybody into the game right away so we didn't have to have guys sit on the bench and try to get the lactic acid out of their legs in the first two minutes," Eaves said. "I think it was a better start just from that, we got the puck in deep and did the things we wanted to do."
What's the Impact
The sweep improved Wisconsin to 6-5-1 and avenged the series against Penn State that saw UW win just one of two games they held the lead in last February. The sweep was also much needed because it stopped the Badgers' losing skid, which was at three out of four before the weekend.
"Last weekend we didn't get any points against Minnesota," Nic Kerdiles said. "[The] Big Ten's open so we're fighting for three points every night so getting six points this weekend was huge. Whether it was ugly or not we got it done.
Saturday night's win showed what the Badgers couldn't do last year against the Nittany Lions, which was come back after losing the lead. In fact, the Badgers had to come back twice in.
Wisconsin looked strong on the defensive end and the fore check throughout the weekend. Defensemen were in the passing lanes and forwards were making Penn State work every trip down the ice. Despite playing in just his fourth and fifth games since last March, Joel Rumpel only allowed just one goal on 28 shots Friday night. Rumpel got a little help from shot blocks by the players in front of him.
"Yeah I think Rumpel had a good night," said winger Frankie Simonelli about Friday's effort. "You can tell he was feeling it from the first period. He was able to find pucks through screens and stuff and seeing all the point shots come through. So when your goalie is backing you like that and the first period wasn't our best and they had some nice chances and he held us in there early. I think that helped us out a lot."
Rumpel had a tougher time on Saturday night, but still earned the win, making 27 saves on 30 shots.
Who were the Weekend MVPs Rumpel: Rumpel stopped 27 of 28 shots on Friday night. Although Penn State's offense is not the strongest, Rumpel was no slouch, which will help the Badgers as they move forward these next few weekends.
"I thought Rumpel settled in," said Eaves. "That's his fourth game since March so it's good for him to get in some games."
Saturday night Rumpel had a little trouble, but the Nittany Lions were playing tough, putting 30 shots on net, with a flurry in the last seconds of the third. Rumpel stood strong, though, stopping 27 shots. Rumpel missed five games at one point, but with two wins in two games now, he is looking strong. Tyler Barnes: Barnes made one of the most athletic goal of the season so far on Friday night. Barnes scored while not even looking at the net, putting the puck through is legs past Skoff.
"You know it was one of those goals where he showed his athleticism, he knew where the net was and where the goalie was," Eaves said. "He didn't see it go in. We were talking to Brian Posick on the radio a second ago and that he had about three open nets with his eyes open seeing it, he should've shut his eyes based on the end result."
Little: When Sean Little scores the Badgers are 6-0. Little played strong both nights notching three points and an with a +/- of two. "He's that spice in your stew that gives it some flavor," Eaves said. "He comes out, he plays his game, he keeps it simple. Every now and then we've been asking him to chip in [offensively]."
Little chipped in in more than just points, providing strong hits on the defense, going for loose pucks and helping set up a UW goal.
After earning the game puck on Friday for his effort, he earned the team "hard hat" on Saturday.
Three Areas of Concern
Turnovers: Penn State could have made it a game if they had capitalized on the number of mishandled Badgers' passes. Wisconsin let the Nittany Lions get out on 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 breaks, but were saved a few times by bad passes or mental mistakes.
Power play: Wisconsin couldn't capitalize on the power play, going 1-for-10 in the weekend series. Quality shots on goal were also not easy to find, thanks in part to sloppy passing on the man-advantages.
"Can't tell you if there's a reason for that," LaBate said. "Things are clicking sometimes 5-on-5. We're working on our power play, and it's getting better throughout the year."
Slow starts: Eaves was not pleased with the start his team got out to on Friday night, although Saturday went better, despite a 1-1 score after the first intermission. The Badgers put just 21 shots on net, compared to 53 in the final two periods. It will be important for UW to come out ready to play in the first period as the season wears on, especially against better opponents.
Three Areas of Excitement
Taking advantage of turnovers: Badgers didn't have many shots against Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff, but when the Nittany Lions would make a mistake, UW capitalized.
Passing: Wisconsin's tape-to-tape passing in the weekend was strong. Friday night Joseph LaBate hooked up with Nic Kerdiles from outside the crease for a slick one-time goal. To start off the game, Besse took advantage of a great pass from Little. Wisconsin's passing did struggled a bit on the power play, which led to some easy odd-man situations for Penn State, but the Badgers did not give up any goals on those chances.
"Things were clicking sometimes on five on five and we're working on that power play and it's getting better throughout the year," LaBate said.
Penalty Kill: Wisconsin played relatively clean hockey on Friday night, committing just five penalties for 14 PIMs. Both teams combined for just 15 power plays in the two games. The second period Friday night was a strong one for the Badgers. Wisconsin pushed doubled their lead in the period after getting out slowly on offense. The Badgers put 18 shots on goal and made Skoff work on every trip down the ice.
"Overall if you put a grade on this you would probably give (us) a B or C. Our anxiety level was up. As the game went on we started to play." – Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves after Friday's win.
Next weekend brings a familiar WCHA foe in Colorado College. Now in the NCHC, the Tigers are struggling at 2-10-3, finally winning a game this past weekend against Nebreaka-Omaha to break a 12-game winless streak. The Tigers have struggled to score goals so far in the season, so the Badgers will look to win consecutive series. Eaves said the Badgers need to take advantage on their home ice.