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Wisconsin got three power-play goals from three different players in a key 4-3 road win over North Dakota, enabling the Badgers to take three of four points in the series at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Wisconsin went 0-3 on the power play in a 3-3 tie with UND Friday, but was 3-for-8 in Saturday’s victory. Badgers’ coach Mike Eaves said the turning point of the game was junior defenseman Brendan Smith’s extra attacker tally at 13:09 of the third period which gave Wisconsin a 4-2 lead.
“Bottom line? We scored the fourth goal,” he explained. “That might sound like a trite answer, but that was the difference. They ended up scoring that third goal, but we had the fourth one. That was the difference in the third period.”
Wisconsin remains in third place in the WCHA, one point behind second place Colorado College and two points behind league leading Denver. UND, ranked third in the USCHO poll entering the series, remains in sixth place.
“The momentum swings were way different tonight than they were last night, and they were definitely in our favor,” said Badgers captain Blake Geoffrion, who scored one of Wisconsin’s power-play goals.
Unlike Friday’s game, UND came out playing with intensity, which led to Wisconsin penalties. The Sioux, however, couldn’t capitalize on 1:27 of five-on-three power-play time, a stretch during which they racked up eight of their 17 shots on goal in the period. Wisconsin junior goalie Scott Gudmandson was equal to the task.
“I go into every penalty kill, every five-on-five situation, with the same mindset,” Gudmandson said. “It’s my job to stop the puck, and that’s what I want to do.”
“They had 12 shots before we had one,” Eaves said. “Guddy (Gudmandson) was tremendous. He bought us some time.”
However, after keeping UND off the board on the power play, Gudmandson gave up a goal he admitted that he wanted back. Sioux sophomore forward Brett Hextall carried the puck into the Wisconsin zone and fired a wrister from the top of the left circle that beat Gudmandson over the shoulder short side, giving UND a 1-0 lead at 6:59.
After being outshot 12-0, Wisconsin scored on its first shot on goal. Blake Geoffrion notched his 14th tally of the season when he one-timed a cross-ice pass from defenseman Brendan Smith past Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness.
UND got the benefit of a lucky bounce to take a 2-1 lead at 12:46. On the power play, senior center Chris VandeVelde’s attempted cross-ice pass deflected off a Badger skate in the crease and past a surprised Gudmandson.
In his first two seasons, Eaves said that allowing such goals would have bothered Gudmandson, who started back-to-back games for the first time this season.
“It would echo in the catacombs of his mind; he couldn’t let go of it,” Eaves said. “Now he’s able to let go of that and get right back to the next shot. It was the hurdle that Guddy had to get over. What he did this weekend helped forge a higher quality goaltender.”
Gudmandson said experience and maturity have improved his game.
“We talked many times, many times, about my mental strength last year,” he said. “I think I’ve come a long way. I’ve been able to put things in the back of my mind, forget about them and move on.
For the second straight night, it appeared that both teams went into their locker rooms and traded jerseys. The Badgers came out with jump and tied it at 5:56 when Derek Stepan’s pass sent Michael Davies in alone on Eidsness, beating the goalie high glove side.
“We did a lot of good things, and it was a real good start to our hockey game,” said UND coach Dave Hakstol. “But you have to build on that, and we weren’t able to do that in the second period.”
The Sioux then got into penalty trouble when defenseman Ben Blood was assessed two minors for contact to the head elbowing and boarding. When UND’s Mario Lamoureux was called for holding, the Badgers had a lengthy five-on-three power play, but were unable to capitalize on it.
Wisconsin took advantage of the extended power play when at 7:55, Ben Street beat Eidsness high short side from the bottom of the right circle. The Badgers carried a 3-2 lead into the third period.
The game-winning goal proved to be Smith’s one-time blast from the top of the right circle at 13:09 of the third off a feed from freshman defenseman Justin Schultz.
Eaves said his team’s turnaround after the first period resulted from locker room discussions. In the third period, he credited the players.
“After the first period, we as a coaching staff addressed some issues that we felt were imperative and gave them some of our passion,” he said. “They went out and played much better. In the third period, the leadership had ownership of the team at that point.”
The Badgers took two penalties late in the final stanza, and the Sioux capitalized on the second with 17 seconds left in the game. With Eidsness pulled for the extra attacker, Hextall’s slap shot from the right dot found the back of the net to make it a 4-3 game.
UND went back on the attack with its net empty, but with the puck deep in Wisconsin’s zone and the Sioux pressing for the tying goal, Hextall was whistled for a checking-from-behind major for the second night in a row. The penalty stopped the action and brought the faceoff back into UND’s zone, effectively ending the game.
A fight broke out as time ran out, causing the officials to physically separate players and creating a plethora of roughing and game misconduct penalties. Hakstol was seen shouting in the direction of referee Todd Anderson before he left the ice.
At the conclusion of his post-game remarks, Hakstol asked if anyone had seen the checking-from-behind penalty on Hextall. When nobody answered, he said that he’d like to see the tape, because he didn’t see it.
When Hextall was asked about the penalty, he said, he was surprised that the penalty was on him.
“To be honest with you, I don’t even think he (the Wisconsin player) fell,” he said. “He wasn’t even up against the boards when I went up to get the puck.
“I didn’t know what they were calling or what it was. I saw the ref put his arm up and I figured they must’ve called a hook on them (the Badgers) or something. The linesman comes up to me and says, ‘I got you.’ I didn’t believe it.”
While Hakstol said the Sioux aren’t far away from being a good team, they’ve been hurt by a lack of maturity the past month.
“We’re playing good teams and you can’t have immaturity in your game and consistently win games against good teams,” he said.
Hextall agreed with the coach’s assessment and noted that the Sioux have been without Chay Genoway since Nov. 14, their top defenseman and senior captain.
“We have a young team,” he noted. “It’s stuff like this that we’re going to learn from. We’ve got to see it that way. We can’t fold. We haven’t done that all year. We just have to respond in the second half.”
How much has UND missed Genoway? The Sioux were 7-1-1 with him and have gone 2-5-2 since he was injured on a check from behind against St. Cloud State.
Wisconsin, 11-5-2 overall and 8-4-2 in the WCHA, next plays in the Badger Hockey Showdown Jan. 2-3. They first play Merrimack and then either Ferris State or Yale. UND, 9-6-3 overall and 6-6-2 in league play, plays an exhibition game at home Dec. 19 against the U.S. Under-20 Team.