After allowing six goals Friday night against No. 17 St. Cloud State University, University of Wisconsin senior netminder Shane Connelly finally shook off the demons from the last five games at the National Hockey Center.
Connelly acknowledged after the game that he’s happy he may not have to come back to St. Cloud ever again. With St. Cloud student sections to his left and right for four out of the six periods throughout the weekend, Connelly even admitted that the so-called “Dogg Pound,” may be one of the best in all of college hockey.
“They keep it going the entire game,” Connelly said. “(Friday) night I maybe found myself distracted and a little off my game, and that’s what a good student section can do.”
However, as the final horn blew in St. Cloud, Connelly was the one to get the last laugh. As time expired, Connelly “waddled” his way over to one side of the student section, clenching his fists in joy after a 1-0 shutout win.
“It was just a lot of emotion coming out and I was trying to keep it back in,” Connelly chuckled after the contest. “I gave them one last waddle but I don’t know if they caught it as I was going off the ice.”
The decision to stick with Connelly was one that Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves noted was an easy one to make.
“We talked about it as a staff, and felt we had to put the ball back in (Connelly’s) hands again,” Eaves said Saturday night. “Just like the rest of the team, we wanted to give him the opportunity to respond. He’s a proud guy that has played in big games for us, and we needed to get him back in there to get him going and what a statement he made.”
The decision to go with Connelly was made during the Badgers’ morning skate in St. Cloud and with Eaves pulling Connelly aside during practice, the Wisconsin coach knew it was only a matter of time until his goalie found his game again.
“(The coaching staff) wanted to make sure he knew where we were at and also where he is at,” Eaves confidently said of his keeper. “I wanted him to just go play the way he is capable of playing.”
Connelly did what Eaves knew he was capable of, stopping all 26 shots faced, in earning his first shutout of the year and player of the game honors. Connelly was a hair better than his opposing netminder, SCSU junior Jase Weslosky, as Weslosky stopped 39 of 40 shots faced.
Both teams were held scoreless throughout the first two periods of the game. Wisconsin dominated the shots on net in the first 18-7 with St. Cloud winning the battle 13-10 in the second.
The Badgers broke the tie early in the third period at the 1:38 mark when freshman left winger Jordy Murray notched his third goal of the season. Junior forward Andy Bohmbach won the draw at the left side circle and kicked the puck back to freshman Jake Gardiner, who threw a shot at Weslosky. Weslosky made the initial save, but then watched as the puck sailed out, just ahead of his reach. Murray then drove hard towards the net, knocking home the game winner.
“I didn’t see it until it hit me,” Weslosky said. “I felt it stick for just a second, so I thought I had the rebound on me, but when I saw it come loose I tried to fall on it but it was just a clash of sticks at it.”
The Badgers held off a strong effort by the SCSU power play in the closing moments of the third, but once again the Huskies’ special teams faltered offensively, going 0-7 on the night and 0-13 on the weekend.
The Huskies man-advantage now sits at a dismal 2.2 percent on the year and 1-45 in the WCHA on the year. To put it in perspective, coming into Saturday’s game, the rest of the WCHA had a combined 93 power-play goals, averaging out to over ten per team.
St. Cloud (8-5-0, 3-4-0 WCHA) now plans ahead to next Saturday and a trip to Duluth to face the struggling Bulldogs. The Badgers play Michigan State on Friday and Michigan on Saturday in Wisconsin.