GRAND FORKS, N.D.—When the seniors on this year’s UW men’s hockey team came to the Ralph Engelstad Arena for their first time as freshmen, they were embarrassed.
North Dakota swept Wisconsin — both in Grand Forks and at the Kohl Center — and the players were miserable about the losses.
Four years later, as the horn sounded to end their last game at the Ralph, seniors Adam Burish, Ryan MacMurchy, Nick Licari and Tom Gilbert embraced each other on the ice after a 4-1 victory and sweep of the Fighting Sioux.
“That was one of the worst experiences we’ve ever had in Wisconsin hockey,” said Burish, a forward, of the Sioux’s sweep in the 2002-03 season. “The turnaround is special. It’s an exciting feeling.”
“[My freshman year] we got smoked, we got out-battled and it was an embarrassing second night,” said right winger MacMurchy. “Senior year, to sweep them after not winning in four years here, it just feels so great.”
The win was a prime example of the turnaround the team has made in four years, as the win solidified the second-best Western Collegiate Hockey Association start for the Badgers in team history.
“I’m really happy for our seniors,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “They were here four years ago and we were just embarrassed here. For them to come back in there senior year and have the success they had this weekend is very satisfying to them.”
On Friday night, it was the killing of a five-minute penalty that secured a win for Wisconsin. Saturday night, it was the Badgers taking advantage of a five-minute power play of their own that shaped the game.
North Dakota captain and defenseman Matt Smaby took a five-minute major and a game misconduct at 9:49 of the first period, and the Badgers scored twice over the next five minutes.
“It gave us an opportunity to score some goals, and we did that,” Eaves said. “We were able to create energy because of what the power play did for us early in the game.”
It had already been dismal up to that point for the Fighting Sioux, as it took them more than eight minutes to land a shot on UW goalie Brian Elliott. But it got worse, as UND not only lost its captain, but its most experience defenseman.
The Badgers got on the board first with a power play goal from MacMurchy at 10:40 of the period.
Forward Joe Pavelski made a give-and-go pass with forward Andrew Joudrey before passing to the front of the net to a waiting MacMurchy. The senior winger slapped it over goalie Jordan Parise’s right shoulder to put UW up 1-0.
After the two teams traded penalties, Joudrey got his second point of the night with a four-on-three goal with less than seven minutes on the clock. Defenseman Jeff Likens found the junior assistant captain in the left circle and put a wrister into the far upper corner to double the lead.
North Dakota got its first power play minutes later in the whistle-happy opening period—one which saw Pavelski take a trio of minor infractions—but it was the Badgers who scored down one man.
Burish stole the puck on a bad pass from defenseman Taylor Chorney and took it the length of the ice on a breakaway. He skated in and beat Parise glove-side and suddenly the Badgers were up 3-0.
For the second night in a row, the Sioux scored on yet another power play with less than a minute on the clock. Forward Chris Porter was able to whack a bouncing loose puck past Elliott, but the damage had already been done.
UW outshot UND—which has been plagued by stagnant series finales this season—14-7, and for the second night in a row scored in the first period, something that no other team had done against the Sioux this season. The Badgers planted five first-period goals on Parise in the series.
“We just played great tonight,” MacMurchy said. “We played system hockey, we just made smart plays and we just played really hard and that’s what we need to do. We’re going to be really hard to beat if we play like that every night.”
Wisconsin added another power play goal in the second period to pad its lead as they again outshot the Sioux by seven shots.
Defenseman Jack Skille got his second goal of the series—another power play goal for UW—at 9:38, the only goal by either team in the second period.
Forward Robbie Earl fought for and gained the puck deep in the offensive zone and got it out in front of the net to Skille. The freshman winger got his stick on it and popped it up in the air, off of Chorney and into the net past the unsuspecting Parise.
The two teams came out and played another hard period in the third, but neither team got a goal to show for it.
Once again, Elliott shined for the Badgers, making 26 saves and extending his streak of giving up two goals or less to 12 straight games.
“We told everybody that this guy was going to do special things,” Burish said.
On the other end of the ice, Parise had a career-best 42 saves as the Badgers put the most shots on a Sioux net since Minnesota tallied 52 against them in March of 2002. All he got to show for a gutsy effort was his second straight loss.
The two wins marked the first sweep for Wisconsin in Grand Forks since the 1996 WCHA playoffs and kept the Badgers atop the WCHA standings.
“This weekend was a measuring stick for us,” Eaves said. “Anytime you want to play at a championship level you have to win two big games in a row, and we did that this weekend.”
The Badgers will not have long to celebrate, as they host second-place Colorado College next weekend.