In a match between the two basement-dwellers of the WCHA, it was two goals in 12 seconds that propelled the Wisconsin Badgers to a 4-1 win over the Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage.
A pair of freshmen, Ryan MacMurchy and Nick Licari, dealt Alaska-Anchorage (1-19-7, 0-17-6 WCHA) a knockout blow halfway through the second period. Before the Kohl Center fans had finished celebrating MacMurchy’s power-play goal, Licari notched his fourth of the season and ended the scoring drought that had plagued the first half of the contest.
“We got one and then right away we came back and got another,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “That’s even more damaging because … that’s another kick in the stomach when you’re still recovering from the first one.”
The loss is the seventh in a row for the Seawolves, who sit last in the WCHA and have not won a game since their season opener in early October.
“They’re desperate, and they’re gonna do anything they can to get close to us and get out of that bottom spot,” Bruckler said.
The Badgers (9-17-3, 3-13-3 WCHA) managed to end a five-game losing skid that saw them outscored 26-6. Once Wisconsin started scoring Friday night, however, they did not stop.
Brad Winchester kept the home crowd in the game with a shorthanded goal only four minutes after the first score. Wisconsin went into the second intermission with a 3-0 lead.
The normally downtrodden Badger power play saw a reverse in its fortunes throughout the night. UAA’s Curtis Glencross received a game misconduct for checking from behind at the start of the third, allowing Wisconsin five minutes on the man advantage. Defenseman Andy Wozniewski collected a goal minutes later, which contributed to a rare 25% conversion rate for the Badgers’ power-play unit on the night.
“We made some mental mistakes and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we have a young D-corps,” Alaska-Anchorage Head Coach John Hill said.
Though never a threat to win in the third period, the Seawolves denied UW goalie Bernd Bruckler a shutout. After five players (two from UAA, three from UW) were sent to the penalty box, Alaska-Anchorage took advantage of its power play and set up John Hopson for a score.
Even a goal could not cause a change in momentum, however, as Bruckler (31 saves) and the Wisconsin defense stymied any threats from the opponents.
“[Bruckler] seemed very focused,” Hill said. “I don’t know much about him but he just seemed like he was energetic and confident; that he kinda wanted to get the puck on his stick and maybe make some things happen with it.”
Though making some impressive plays along the way, Alaska-Anchorage goalie Kevin Reiter clearly suffered from the absence of star defenseman Matt Shasby, who is out with a broken foot. The Badgers’ struggling offense was able to penetrate the Seawolves’ defense numerous times and put Reiter (33 saves) under intense pressure.
After an uneventful first period, Wisconsin engineered a play 11 minutes into the second destined for the highlight reels.
After stopping a shot, Bruckler noticed MacMurchy coming off the bench and streaking towards the UAA goal as the Badgers went on a man advantage. The goaltender sent a pass three-quarters of the way down the ice and onto the stick of the freshman, who found himself on a breakaway. MacMurchy was able to deke out Reiter for his eighth goal of the season.
“It certainly caught us off guard and we had a couple of guys who were slow on the change,” Hill said.
Wisconsin’s other freshman threat was not far behind, striking only seconds later. Licari got in front of the Seawolves’ goal to redirect a pass from Erik Jensen into the net.
At 4:22 of the second period UW’s penalty killers stepped into the spotlight. Licari collected his second point off an assist on a perfect one-timer. Seeing Winchester approaching from the middle, Licari sent a pass through a gap in the defense. Winchester received the puck and rifled a shot past Reiter to extend the Wisconsin lead.
The power play added one more goal at 15:51 of the third. In the middle of a cycle, defenseman Andy Wozniewski accepted a pass from Tom Gilbert and took a slapshot towards the goal. The blistering shot put the Badgers ahead 4-0.
Alaska-Anchorage’s inconsistent power play also saw success before the night ended. Halfway through the final period, John Hopson notched his team-leading ninth goal of the year thanks to a timely assist from Ales Parez. Approaching the back of the net, Parez sent a quick pass to Hopson, who outmuscled Wisconsin’s defenders to the puck and slipped a shot past Bruckler.
Wisconsin will try for its first weekend sweep in the WCHA Saturday. Badger fans were last treated to a sweep in October.
“I think we’re gonna be hungry tomorrow, we’re gonna come out and play hard again,” MacMurchy said. “We’d sure like to give this crowd a sweep.”
With only two WCHA series remaining, time is running out for the Seawolves to overtake Wisconsin in the conference rankings. That will no doubt be on the minds of both teams Saturday.
“As a coach I expect to win, but I expect to win every game. I think it’s awfully hard to get our guys to believe that right now,” Hill said. “But tomorrow is a new day and when you wake up you can’t look in the rear-view mirror; you’ve got to look ahead.”