MADISON – There’s something about the Wisconsin hockey team playing regional finals in its own state that bring out a natural flare for the dramatics.
Two years ago in one of the longest hockey college hockey games in the sports history, the Badgers, playing 140 miles north in Green Bay, needed over 111 minutes to beat Cornell 1-0 and advance to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee, eventually winning the school’s sixth national championship.
This time, however, the friendly home ice was not kind enough for the Badgers.
Up 2-0 entering Wisconsin’s dominant period, the Badgers watched North Dakota score twice in a 47 second span to tie the game and then notch the game winner in overtime, ending UW’s season and sending North Dakota to the Frozen Four in Denver with a 3-2 victory.
“We made a huge step these last two games and we just couldn’t finish it off,” goalie Shane Connelly said. “We were so close. We gave our hearts out there and we couldn’t finish it tonight.”
With North Dakota (28-10-4) grasping the reigns of the momentum from the beginning of the third period and continuing to play physical in the Wisconsin zone in overtime, defenseman Robbie Bina fired a bullet into traffic that hit Badger forward Kyle Turris square in the chest.
The puck rebounded right to Kozek, who was coming cross ice, and he corralled it, turned and fired the game-winner past Connelly, who was screened by his defenseman and never saw the puck until it was in the back of the net.
“I saw him wind up and I lost it from there,” Connelly said. “It hit my skate and I thought I had it with my right skate with the puck going into the corner. I just happened to look over and it went into the net.”
But to even be put in the position of scoring the overtime winner, the Fighting Sioux had to fight through the tremendous odds in their path.
With the Badgers (16-17-7) getting a lucky bounce which transcended into a fluke goal with 29 seconds left in the second period, North Dakota came out of the third period determined to bring the momentum back.
They did not make any adjustments; they just regrouped, as all savvy veteran squads do.
It started with senior captain Rylan Kaip, who grabbed the loose puck, turned and fired a shot at Connelly (28 saves) that snuck underneath his leg pad to cut the lead in half.
Forty-seven seconds later, junior Ryan Duncan scored his fourth goal of the tournament when his linemate, T.J. Oshie, skated with the puck to the center of Wisconsin’s zone, chipped the puck back to Duncan, who then rocketed it off the pipe and into the back of the net.
Within the first four minutes and 20 seconds of the final period, North Dakota had corrected all of its mistakes from the first 40 minutes.
“As a whole, we just had to regroup,” UND goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux said. “It could have been demoralizing for a team to give up a goal (late in the period) and a two goal lead going into the third on top of that. It’s a position we’ve been in before this year. Our big time leaders stepped up and made big time plays for us.”
Wisconsin had its chances but unlike the previous night, where everything they threw at the net seemed to find its way in, the Badgers were the ones that racked up post after post with no such luck.
“It’s tough but they are obviously a very good team, you expect some kind of push from them,” said senior captain Davis Drewiske about the two back-to-back North Dakota goals. “We still felt we were going to pull through and we had some great opportunities to make it a three-goal lead. That goal would have been huge for our confidence.”
In another cruel twist of fate for the Badgers, Wisconsin had scored more goals in the third period (33) than any other period during the season, including four last night, and had out scored its opponents by 14 in that period.
On Sunday, no such luck.
“It’s kind of ironic, paradoxical tonight,” UW coach Mike Eaves said. “Last night we were very excited, and I think it stings a little bit more tonight because we were so close. … Usually we are scoring goals in the third period and we weren’t able to do that tonight. That was a thing that was out of character for us.”
But the Badgers found success early and looked to be on the right path to their second Frozen Four in three years.
Early in the second period, two seconds after Wisconsin’s power play expired and Turris possessing the puck near the blue line, the freshman forward saw defenseman Jamie McBain camped out, unguarded, on the left side of the net.
Turris threaded the needle, sailing the puck through the entire North Dakota defense to McBain, who chipped the puck into the wide-open net for his fifth goal of the season and second of the regional.
But if the Badgers thought their luck had run out, their second goal was affirmation that it hadn’t.
With the Badgers back on the power play, UW defenseman Cody Goloubef rifled a shot that missed Lamoureux and everything else. Getting the member’s bounce, however, the puck rebounded straight off the boards, hitting Lamoureux in the backside and deflecting into the back of the net.
“It really just took a weird hop,” Lamoureux. It really wasn’t something I was expecting but it was a good play by them just trying to pound it to the net.”
It was the second straight game that Wisconsin scored a goal by the puck bouncing off a goaltender’s derriere but that’s the last lucky break the Badgers would receive.
“I thought we were really riding that wave of emotion,” Drewiske said. “We were riding pretty high there in the second period tonight. I was impressed that we were controlling the game there but that third goal would have big for us.”
Graduating only one forward and three defensemen, including Drewiske, the future of Wisconsin hockey looks very bright for the Badgers, who proved to the college hockey community that, despite their 16-17-7 record, they belong to be here.
“We came together and played as a group this year with a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Drewiske said. “I hope they continue that; build that bound between each other. I hope they take the results from tonight as fuel to the fire and do some great things while they are here.”