Despite a near perfect third line performance, Wisconsin falls in first game against North Dakota

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

The third line on a hockey team is sometimes the most critical, and is often the most overlooked. The first two lines are on the ice to score, while the fourth-liners are tasked with bringing energy and grit. Third-line forwards often have to play both roles, and the teams whose third lines do it best typically win.

Wisconsin’s third line of Matthew Freytag, Tarek Baker and Sean Dhooghe played a near-perfect third line game on Friday night against North Dakota, but it wasn’t enough for the Badgers (1-1-0 Big Ten, 6-4-0 overall) as they fell 3-2 in the first game of the series against the Fighting Hawks (1-1-0 NCHC, 6-2-1).

Freytag was the star of the show early on, as he collected his second and third goals of the season in the first period and generally made life unpleasant for the North Dakota defense and goaltender Peter Thome.

“[Freytag]’s a goal scorer, he can shoot the puck,” head coach Tony Granato said. “Those goals there, that’s a tribute to his linemates and how hard they played.”

Thome in particular was victimized by the junior winger just seven minutes into the game, when Freytag took the puck on a zone entry and ripped it to beat the freshman netminder on the first shot he faced as a collegian.

All three linemates teamed up on the second goal, as Dhooge and Baker won a puck battle behind the Fighting Hawks’ net that lead to a wraparound chance for Baker and a rebound that Freytag roofed with lightning quick mitts.

The goal was consummately third-line; starting with a hard-nosed play against the boards and finishing with a deceptively skilled finish, both equally essential parts of the final product.

Those two goals, which sandwiched a North Dakota tally, put Wisconsin up 2-1 heading into the first intermission after a period in which it had been thoroughly outplayed. The Badgers turned it around in the next two frames and ultimately outshot the Hawks 34-22 over the final 40 minutes, but couldn’t find another way to beat Thome.

Throughout the night, the Badgers failed to capitalize on numerous rebounds and struggled to get men in front of the net, which Granato attributed to the strength of North Dakota’s defense.

“They do a very good job defensively of boxing out and being physical around the net,” Granato said. “We can find ways to be better at [getting to rebounds]. We have to find ways to be better at it.”

Tied at two for most of the second and third periods after an equalizer from North Dakota’s Austin Poganski, the deciding goal came on a Hawks power play that broke through after being stifled by Wisconsin’s penalty kill early on. It was the second straight game in which Wisconsin allowed the game-winning goal on the penalty kill, a potential concern for a team that entered the night just 27th nationally in penalty killing.

The Badgers will be hoping for many things to go differently tomorrow night as they look to avoid a three-game losing streak heading into conference play, but what won’t be different is the forwards who will take the ice as part of the third line.

“That was a great line for us and we’ll give them another chance to go after it tomorrow,” Granato said.

If that trio is able to go after it on Saturday the same way they did on Friday, it will put Wisconsin one important step closer to snapping that streak.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Cardinal.