MADISON – The answers were simple, yet effective. They were quick, yet they were painful. It happened late in the first period and early in the third period, but the effects of senior tri-captain Ben Street and freshman Craig Smith’s response goals had a deafening effect for the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday night.
During the two occasions when Alaska-Anchorage finally looked to have gained some momentum in the one-sided series, Street and Smith took it all away in a combined 77 seconds, helping Wisconsin upend UAA, 6-2, to complete the weekend sweep in front of 13,612 at the Kohl Center.
“That was the game in a nut shell,” said UW coach Mike Eaves, as UW (6-3-1, 4-3-1 WCHA) closes out its six-game home stand with a 5-1-0 record. “People will look at the box score and say … they must have dominated the whole game and it wasn’t much of a game. Those two critical moments were turning points.”
The victory over Anchorage (4-8-0, 2-6-0 WCHA) has been a common theme for Wisconsin, as UW has won the last nine games in the series played in Madison.
The first message came 11 seconds after UAA, despite being out shot 8-1, converted on a bang-bang goal from senior center Josh Lunden, who buried a centering pass from Luka Vidmar between the circles at 15 minutes, 32 seconds, giving the Seawolves their first lead of the series.
That good, productive feeling lasted only 11 seconds. After UW’s Derek Lee won the ensuing face-off and slid the puck to forward Ben Grotting, Grotting threaded the needle to Street, who one-timed the puck past UAA goalie Bryce Christianson (36 saves).
“What we talk about on the bench is having a good response, shooting for a good shift after they score (to) try and take the momentum away,” Street said. “Obviously if you can get a quick goal, it’s even better.”
The second answer came early in the third period. With Wisconsin on the power play up 3-1, a turnover at center ice and a pass from UAA wing Kevin Clark created a breakaway for Lunden, who scored his second goal of the night after hesitating first then tucking the puck past UW goalie Scott Gudmandson at 6:36.
But just like with Street’s goal, UW had an answer, this time in the form of Smith. Making a couple of nice moves around UAA defenseman Jared Tuton, Smith tucked a shot inside the left post, answering the Seawolves’ goal 66 seconds later for his second goal in as many nights.
“I thought we had (the momentum) on two different occasions and we didn’t respond well after that,” UAA coach Dave Shyiak said. “They countered to score to take any momentum away. You can’t do that against good teams.”
The offense was more than enough for Wisconsin, who have made life challenging on opposing offenses. The Badgers have out shot their opponent nine times on the season (6-3-0), including attempting 15 shots or more shots seven times, a big reason UW is second in the WCHA in scoring defense (1.9 per game).
“We didn’t generate a whole lot time, not a whole lot last night and you have to give credit to them,” said Shyiak, as Gudmandson only needed to make 11 saves. “Their best attribute is their work load, how tough they are at pucks … and throw everything they can on net.”
The victory was set up by UW’s goal late in the second. After a shot by UW’s Derek Stepan went wide right, UAA center Craig Parkinson swung around the net to corral the puck. A slight bobble gave senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion all the room he needed, stealing the loose puck and beating Christianson at 12:37 for his team-leading sixth tally.
Wisconsin added to its lead early in the third when Patrick Johnson made a sliding deflection on a pass that wound up sliding through Christianson’s legs, causing the UW junior to celebrate as soon as he hit the boards.
To make the night even sweeter, freshman Justin Schultz scored his first collegiate goal on an empty net attempt at 17:04 and Street added another top shelf tally at 19:48, capping the dominating weekend.
After seeing returning upperclassmen scorers Street, Johnson and Mitchell – a group with five points in 22 combined games – score three goals and four assists, the light is starting to flicker among the forwards in the Wisconsin locker room.
“It’s starting to come,” Eaves said. “Good things are up and coming and we saw a little glimpse of that.”