Badgers use gritty performance to split weekend series with Buckeyes

Freshman Tarek Baker did not score tonight, but played a big role on UW's best line in its 3-2 loss to North Dakota.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

After last night’s 3-2 loss to Ohio State, head coach Tony Granato said something intriguing about junior forward Ryan Wagner in relation to the rest of his lineup.

“He’s a great example setter. That’s how we have to play. We all have to play like that with his effort and how he competed shift after shift.

“I wish we had more guys jump on the way he plays. I wish our guys would notice that and follow him a little bit more.”

Granato was frustrated in the rest of his lineups’ inability to emulate the two-way, scrappy, fall-into-the-boards-head-first-to-chip-a-puck-deep type game that Wagner brought last night.

Tonight, however, the rest of the Badgers did follow Wagner’s lead. Although the game wasn’t perfectly scripted, No. 12 Wisconsin (1-1 Big Ten, 2-1 overall) made enough hard-nosed, Wagner-esque plays to earn a 3-2 victory over the No. 19 Ohio State Buckeyes (1-1, 1-1).

“We did [play a more spirited game]. We got a lot of it,” Granato said. “[Junior forward Jarod] Zirbel and [junior forward Dan] Labosky, two guys we inserted into the lineup tonight, had great energy. That was a much better performance by our forwards. Top to bottom, our entire lineup contributed in some way.”

The Badgers’ dedication to playing a more hard-nosed game was most evident with only four seconds remaining in the third. Wisconsin took a 3-0 lead into the game’s final frame, but surrendered two goals just 24 seconds apart with less than 10 minutes to go. OSU didn’t have a lot of looks over the last eight minutes, but it had an outstanding chance with under five seconds to play off of a Badger penalty and an offensive zone faceoff. Sophomore forward Trent Frederic lost the draw, and Ohio State looked prime to fire the puck on net. Instead, Frederic recovered and made a sliding block to clear the zone and end the game.

“We were pretty pumped for Freddy,” senior forward captain Cameron Hughes said. “I think four or five of us went out and gave him a big hug. He’s the kind of guy that’s like, ‘well, I lost the draw,’ but he made a great play and sealed the game. We need plays like that.”

“‘You just make sure it doesn’t go in your net, Trent,’ that was the instructions,” Granato said. “There was no way that he was letting that puck get through.”

Although Frederic’s block highlights UW’s greater dedication to doing the ever-impactful little things, junior forward Seamus Malone seemed to spearhead the Badgers’ effort for the majority of the night. Malone constantly won puck battles, stole the puck off of Buckeye sticks and forechecked hard.

“I just tried my best to work hard out there,” Malone said. “Friday night collectively as a group we didn’t win those puck battles that we needed to, so I thought today we made an emphasis on doing that. Winning puck battles leads to goals.”

The rest of the Badgers also made similar plays. Freshman forward Tarek Baker’s game-winning tally exemplified how doing the little things leads to bigger things. In the defensive zone, Baker quickly got to the point to close on an OSU defender looking to fire on net. He kept his stick on the puck, deflected the Ohio State shot to the corner and started the breakout. Then, in almost no time, Baker found the puck on his stick again rushing forward and beat Ohio State’s netminder Sean Romeo five-hole for the second consecutive night.

Defensive zone plays like Baker’s are imperative for success. Usually, however, they do not translate to goals as quickly as they did on UW’s third goal. More often, solid defensive plays are impactful for their tendency to thwart momentum and not allow teams to develop an offensive rhythm.

That is exactly what the Wisconsin penalty kill did tonight, as the Buckeyes went zero-for-six on the man advantage.

“A huge factor in the game tonight was how well our penalty killers [played],” Granato said. “I don’t think they got any momentum off their power play.”

According to Granato, against a fast, talented team like Ohio State, hard-nosed, dedicated hockey was necessary. The rest of the Big Ten will be similarly talented, and the Badgers will have to play like they did tonight in order to accumulate consistent success. But, at least for tonight, Wisconsin will be proud that it responded from a sluggish performance in game one this weekend to earn its first conference win of the season.

“I loved our response after giving up two. Guys wanted to be on the ice. Guys wanted to make the big pays defensively,” Granato said. “There were lots of great performances up and down our roster, and I think it was a pretty complete game for us. We played a really solid hockey game.”

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