Riding an exercise bike between the second and third periods of Sunday night’s game, Jake Dowell and Ryan MacMurchy didn’t say anything to each other. They didn’t need to.
They had just spent the latter part of the second period relegated to the bench because UW head coach Mike Eaves did not think they were playing to their full potential.
When the two forwards got back on the ice in the third period, they made the most of it, as MacMurchy found Dowell for what would eventually be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory over Minnesota State.
Up 2-1 early in the third period, MacMurchy skated around the back of the net and out to the left side. He flung the puck towards the crease and it found its way through to Dowell on the right side.
The junior winger put it in the empty right side of the net to put the Badgers up two goals.
“I give them full credit. They went in the locker room between the second and third, they rode the bike, they got themselves ready, they went out and scored a big goal,” Eaves said. “It was a really mature effort by those young men.”
It was sweet redemption in more ways than one for Dowell. The junior was not only struggling in the game, he had been struggling all season. In fact, after a 12-goal sophomore campaign, he had been held scoreless through the first 11 games.
After fielding questions this week about his slump, Dowell finally got the break he needed.
“I’ve just been telling people that other people have been scoring and we’ve been winning and that’s fine and I had a feeling I’d get that first goal when we really needed it and that’s what happened,” Dowell said.
Of course, he didn’t know it would turn out to be the game-winning tally, but as the Mavericks found some much-needed offense in the third period, they got the game back to a one-goal difference.
UW goalie Brian Elliott and the Badgers held on for another victory to bring their unbeaten streak to 10 games to open league play.
“I think they’re probably, in a lot of ways, as good as it gets, especially defensively,” MSU head coach Troy Jutting said. “I knew they were good, [but] I’m more impressed than I thought I would be.”
The Badgers put the pressure on early in the game. They out-shot the Mavericks 11-2 over the first 20 minutes and jumped out to a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal from Ford.
Ford collected the puck in the right circle and was pressured by MSU defenseman Brian Kilburg. The sophomore winger slung a simple shot from the right side of the net.
Somehow the puck found its way under the right arm of the freshman goalie and slowly spun and slid into the goal, giving Ford his second tally of the year and UW the 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t that they weren’t getting their shots—in fact the Mavericks actually attempted more shots in the period, launching 22 to the Badgers 18, but Wisconsin blocked 12 shots in the opening stanza.
“They’re a great team at getting in front of the puck,” Jutting said. “They do a lot of good things defensively, but they’re as good a team as getting their sticks and getting their bodies in front of shots as I’ve seen. It’s very frustrating, they’re great at it.”
Minnesota State’s David Backes knotted the score at 1-1 with a goal three minutes into the second period on a Maverick power play.
Backes skated the puck into the left circle and lifted a backhand shot near-side over Elliott’s blocker for the equalizer.
But the Badgers regained the lead midway through the period with an extra attacker on the ice. Freshman Ben Street took off from the bench as Elliott left the ice on the delayed penalty call.
Tom Gilbert held the zone, getting the puck to Joe Pavelski who had the presence of mind to know that Street was coming. Pavelski made a nifty, no-look pass to the streaking Street in the left circle.
“Good hockey players know that, they see that. They know what they’re going to do before they get the puck,” Eaves said of Pavelski’s play.
The rookie skated in with the puck, then pulled it across before lifting a backhand over the leg of Tormey to make it 2-1.
Pavelski finished the weekend with three points.
The Mavericks got a few more shots through to Elliott in the second, but were still out-shot 13-7 in the period.
They picked up their tempo and even had the Badgers on their heals during stretches in the third, as the two teams traded goals yet again.
The Mavericks wanted to pressure the Badgers over the final 1:30 of the game, and were looking to get Tormey off the ice, but they could not get anything set up in their offensive zone and Wisconsin held on.
The sweep gave the Badgers a four-point lead over Minnesota in the WCHA and their 8-0-2 conference start marks the second-longest unbeaten streak to open a season. Colorado College opened its campaign 9-0-2 in 2002-03.
Wisconsin is the only remaining team in the country which is unbeaten in league play and Elliott extended his streak of holding teams to two goals or less to 16 straight starts.
“I think that says a lot about us that even when we’re not playing our best hockey, we’re still finding ways to win and I think that says a lot about the character of our team,” Dowell said.
Wisconsin takes to the road for the College Hockey Showcase next weekend, taking on Michigan State Friday leading up to what should be a battle between No. 1 and No. 2 when it faces Michigan Saturday night.