Ashwaubenon — Following Friday night’s overtime loss to Northern Michigan, Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato challenged his team to dictate play in Saturday’s series finale.
His squad responded in impressive fashion.
The No.5/6 Badgers (5-2) scored in all three periods and limited NMU to just 12 shots, en route to a 4-0 victory over the Wildcats at the Resch Center.
“This is the kind of game we were hoping to have happen for us,” Granato said. “From the opening faceoff and throughout the game, I thought we were in control. It was really important to us … to respond.”
Saturday’s affair was considerably more physical than the series opener. With just under four minutes remaining in the opening stanza, things got especially rough.
Northern Michigan’s Denver Pierce took a two-minute minor for charging, making contact to the head of UW’s Peter Tischke. Tischke needed to be helped to the locker room and did not return to the game.
According to Granato, Tischke wanted to return to the game but the coaching staff held him out for precautionary reasons. The staff plans to monitor Tischke’s health throughout the upcoming week.
“We saw it. It was right in front of our bench. It was [worthy of] a major penalty,” Granato said. “You lose an All-American defenseman, you’re going to have to suck it up and find a way to battle through it.”
And battle they did. The Badgers capitalized on the ensuing power play. Ryan Wagner glided a shot past the right leg of NMU goalie Atte Tolvanen to give UW its first lead of the weekend.
It took less than 60 seconds for Wisconsin to tally a goal in the second. Will Johnson stuffed home a pass from Cameron Hughes to promptly out the Badgers up 2-0.
At the 8:40 mark of the period, the Wildcats took a minor penalty for too many men on the ice. A short time later, Hughes scooped up a rebound and found the back of the net to make it 3-0 in favor of UW.
“You never want to see one of your teammates go down,” Hughes said. “He is a brother to all of us and we kind of had the mentality that we were going to stick up for him and have a response. It definitely gave us some motivation that we had to do it for him and we had to do it as a group. I think the response was good.”
The goal chased Tolvanen from the game. He was replaced by Mathias Israelson.
NMU (4-2) seemed primed to get on the board when it was presented a 5-on-3 power play at the 8:06 remaining in the frame. However, the Badgers successfully fought off the two-man advantage, much to the delight of the pro-Wisconsin crowd.
Granato was also pleased to see his team improve upon their sub-par performances in 5-on-3 scenarios on Friday.
‘We did a better job tonight. We didn’t get stuck in our end like we did last night, so they didn’t wear us down,” Granato said. “I thought we got two clears out of it which were really important. We did learn from last night.”
Linus Weissbach put the icing on the cake for UW as he scored on a wrist shot from the near circle with 6:21 to play.
In his first start of the season, Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry stopped all 12 shots he faced to record the second shutout of his collegiate career. The other came against NMU a season ago.
“We know what Berry is going to give us,” Granato said. “He looked like he was in mid-season form, like he had 10 or 15 games under his belt with how in control he was. We have depth at that position. To have him jump in and throw a shutout his first game says a lot about him.”
Berry was quick to credit the players in front of him.
“Our guys came out flying. You could definitely see a little jump in their step tonight,” Berry said. “Guys were tracking and hunting the puck. Third period, [the Wildcats] didn’t get their first shot until there four minutes left in the game, that’s pretty huge.”
Hughes finished the contest with a team-high three points.
The Badgers were 2-for-5 on the power play, while killing off all five of their own penalties.
“We talked about being closer to 30 percent on the power play and then for the penalty kill to get better too,” Hughes said. “To have that clicking is really big. It’s a really big part of the game nowadays, especially with how tight [officials] are calling it.”
Wisconsin returns home Friday when it opens up a two-game non-conference series against St. Lawrence at the Kohl Center.