Most players on the current Wisconsin roster had not strapped on their first pair of skates when the Badgers last won an exhibition game. The 2002-03 Badgers, however, became the first UW team to defeat an international squad in a dominating 7-0 win over Team Italy on Thursday night.
Italy is now 0-2 in their current tour of the WCHA, which started with a 4-2 loss at Minnesota on Monday. Wisconsin is 3-21-2 in exhibition games, with its only wins before tonight coming against the U.S. Olympic Team in 1984 and the U.S. Nationals in 1982.
Wisconsin was in sole possession of any momentum by the beginning of the third period. Entering the final 20 minutes with a 3-0 lead, the Badgers weaved their way through the Italian defense en route to four goals in the third.
Defenseman Mark Jackson led all players with two goals on the night. Six other Badgers finished the game with two points.
“We needed this win, we needed something to rally around,” Jackson said. “This is the perfect time for it.”
Unfortunately for Wisconsin (5-11-0, 1-7-0 WCHA), which is coming off of a six game losing streak, its best game this year on both the ice and the scorecard came in a contest that will not count statistically.
Though the Badgers have struggled all season to generate offensive consistency, scoring was not a problem in any of the three periods. Wisconsin put Italian goalie Gunther Hell under a barrage of 35 shots and rarely allowed him down time.
UW goalie Bernd Bruckler had one of the easier games of his career, facing only seven shots. He was pulled midway through the third period to allow freshman Luke Kohtala his first action of the season. In 10:50 of play, Kohtala only faced one shot and seldom saw any semblance of an Italian threat.
“It might not have been their ‘A’ game. I don’t know them well enough to tell you what their ‘A’ game is, but I know that we did a lot of good things,” UW Head Coach Mike Eaves said.
The first goal of the game came at 6:05 of the first period. While Erik Jensen was fighting for his rebound, the puck escaped and wound up on the stick of freshman John Funk. With the goalie partially screened, Funk was able to drill a shot low to the glove side for Wisconsin’s first score. This game marked Funk’s first significant playing time in his college career.
Less than five minutes later the Badgers extended their lead. Jackson was allowed a clear lane to the Italian goal after receiving a pass from freshman teammate Ryan MacMurchy. Jackson gained control of the puck in time to fire off a shot that beat Hell to the top shelf.
The only notable accomplishment from Team Italy’s offense came over seven minutes into the third, when a shot appeared to hit the top shelf of the net and bounce out. The referees did not signal for a goal however, and play continued.
At 11:53 Brad Winchester scored on the power play when he beat Hell to a blocked shot and dumped the puck into the net. This added much needed confidence to the power-play unit, which, entering this game, had converted on only 11 percent of its chances on the man advantage.
One minute later, Rene Bourque, after a failed wraparound, proved his accuracy in taking a shot from the side of the net that squeezed into the top corner. Freshman A.J. Degenhardt added insult to injury in tallying Wisconsin’s seventh goal with only 55.6 seconds left.
“We ended up doing more good things out there than we’ve done in awhile, consistently. I think we ended up being on the plus side of the sheet because it allowed us to do some things to give some confidence to play consistent over a period of time,” Eaves said. “We’ll take those lessons with us as we head into break.”
The Badgers will have off for over two weeks until the Bank One Badger Showdown in Milwaukee. The tournament will feature Colgate, No. 11 Harvard and No. 14 Northern Michigan.
“[Tonight is] a big stepping point for our team, especially going into our own tournament,” defenseman Dan Boeser said. “Coming out and winning a game 7-0 in that fashion sets a big step for our club.”