The last time the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves played a Saturday night game in Madison, a bench-clearing brawl ensued. This time around, the only knockout came in the form of a 4-2 Wisconsin victory.
Though it has taken all season to do it, the Badgers managed to pull off a weekend sweep in the WCHA. Saturday marked the first time that the Badgers have swept the Seawolves (1-20-7, 0-18-6 WCHA) at home since March of 1998.
“It’s a building block for our team,” UW goalie Bernd Bruckler said. “In a must-win situation like that you learn a lot about your team.”
Brad Winchester led all players this weekend with three goals. Teammate Brian Fahey collected one goal and two assists. The surprise story of the weekend was Badger freshman Nick Licari, who recorded his first multipoint games with a goal and an assist Friday and two assists Saturday.
In the rematch, Anchorage transfer Pete Talafous notched the game winning goal for the Badgers (10-17-3, 4-13-3 WCHA) and, aided by a two-goal contribution from Winchester, sent his former team to their eighth loss in a row.
“I just wanted to win,” Talafous said. “I have nothing against those guys at all. Its just a sweep for us, didn’t matter who we played this weekend.”
Though entering the third period down 3-0, the Seawolves played an intense 20 minutes and narrowed the deficit to one goal, courtesy of scores from Lee Green and Curtis Glencross. Winchester’s empty-net goal with one minute remaining ended their bid for a comeback, however.
“We got behind three-zip and to our guys credit they didn’t give up,” UAA head coach John Hill said. “What I struggled with is why we didn’t play 60 minutes like we did the last 20. I think had we done that maybe we would’ve gotten a different outcome.”
UW defenseman Brian Fahey opened scoring with the Badgers’ third power-play goal of the weekend, a rare accomplishment as Wisconsin has the lowest conversion percentage in the WCHA.
Anchorage goalie Chris King saw little down time against a swarming Badger attack and responded with 31 saves. Bruckler, playing his first back-to-back games in almost a year, showed why he has the highest save percentage in the league by frustrating the Seawolves’ struggling offense at numerous points in the game en route to 19 saves.
“I think that you can build a team around your goaltender and I think they certainly have one there that they can build their team around,” Hill said.
Partially offsetting the injury to star defenseman Matt Shasby (broken foot) of the Seawolves was the absence of Wisconsin’s Alex Leavitt, the team leader in assists, and Erik Jensen. Both Badgers sat out due to a scuffle they were involved in during Friday’s game.
“It’s a bit of tough love,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “If it’s a 2-1 game or a 1-0 game in the playoffs and we get frustrated and [Leavitt or Jensen] do that kind of thing, then they’d really feel bad. Now it’s the regular season and it’s a time to learn.”
For the second night in a row, the first period started slowly. Brian Fahey’s power-play goal with 5:06 left brought an end to that. After the Seawolves interrupted Wisconsin’s cycle, Fahey took a wrister from the blue line that trickled past King for the game’s first score.
Bruckler wowed the home crowd with a stellar kick save only minutes later. After forcing a turnover, the Seawolves had a clear lane to the UW goal. Bruckler spread out and, seeing the shot going towards the top shelf, flailed his leg up and kicked the puck above the net.
The Badger offense stole the show for the second period, outshooting their opponents 15-2. While falling, John Eichelberger squeezed a pass to Winchester, who managed an awkward shot on goal halfway through the period. King fell to the ice to cover the puck, but lost track of it as it dribbled by him and slowly crossed the line.
Talafous upped the score at 3:33 of the second by deflecting a long-range wrist shot from Fahey. King was not able to react to the redirected puck in time and watched as the Anchorage deficit increased to three goals.
The Seawolves would not stay out of the game, however, and threatened to tie in the third period.
Lee Green spoiled Bruckler’s shutout at 15:12 of the third. A centering pass from Vladimir Novak allowed Green a slapshot that beat Wisconsin’s highly-rated goalie to the back of the net.
UW’s Dan Boeser went to the penalty box for interference a few minutes later. Though Boeser has committed only a handful of penalties in his career, Wisconsin paid for his infraction only 11 seconds later.
Ales Parez mimicked his assist from the night before in passing from the back corner of the UW goal. This time Parez connected with Glencross, who displayed his accuracy in wristing the puck to the top corner of the net.
“They raised their level, their a very proud group of players,” Eaves said. “They came after us and put us back on our heels.”
With one minute remaining, Alaska-Anchorage pulled the goalie in an attempt to tie the game. The Badgers did not wait long before taking advantage of the open net, however, and Winchester notched his second goal of the night after getting past the Seawolves’ defenders and guiding the puck into the net.
With the win Wisconsin pulls within four points of Michigan Tech for eighth place in the WCHA rankings. Alaska-Anchorage, on the other hand, has likely locked itself into the bottom spot.
The Seawolves will attempt their first conference win of the season next weekend at home against No. 14 MSU-Mankato. Wisconsin will travel to Minneapolis and try to even the season series against archrival No. 7 Minnesota.