Last Monday, a reporter asked Wisconsin men's hockey head coach Mike Eaves about his team ""flying under the radar"" when it came to their national ranking. But after hitting the road to North Dakota and taking three points from their series against the No. 3 Fighting Sioux, the Badgers might not be under the radar much longer.
The high-powered Wisconsin offense led the way and junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson provided a solid performance in his first full series as a starter while the Badgers fought their way to a 3-3 tie and 4-3 win against UND. Wisconsin improved to 8-4-2 in the WCHA and 11-5-2 overall, and will likely see a rise in their national ranking after the successful, if sloppy, series against the Sioux.
The Badgers got on the scoreboard first Friday night, with senior forward Blake Geoffrion hitting freshman forward Craig Smith on a well-executed give and go to beat North Dakota goalie Brad Eidsness. Their roles were reversed on Wisconsin's next goal, when Smith found Geoffrion at the top of the slot with only a few seconds to go in the first period.
In the second period the Sioux came out strong and converted 1:58 into the period when freshman forward Danny Kristo dished the puck to junior forward Brad Malone on the doorstep. With Gudmandson out of position and missing his stick, Malone found the back of the empty net to bring North Dakota within one.
Less than two minutes after the Sioux scored, however, senior forward Andy Bohmbach chipped a shot toward the North Dakota goal. Although Bohmbach was most likely looking to get a rebound off of the shot, it instead trickled through Eidsness and in for Wisconsin's third goal.
The mistake was Eidsness' last of the night, as he was replaced with freshman Aaron Dell for the rest of the game.
Throughout the game and series the Badgers got themselves into penalty trouble, and later in the second period it caught up with them. Wisconsin gave North Dakota nine power play opportunities on 13 infractions Friday night, and while the Sioux had the man advantage in the second period sophomore defenseman Ben Blood scored to shrink the Badger lead to 3-2.
Wisconsin could have brought its lead back to two goals when the Badgers scored later in the period, but officials ruled senior forward Michael Davies redirected freshman defenseman Justin Schultz's shot with a high stick and waved the goal off. With the Wisconsin lead at one, Kristo added a third North Dakota goal on another power play midway through the third period, completing the Sioux comeback and resulting in a 3-3 tie.
The conventional wisdom about the Badgers is that the shots on goal number can be deceiving—Wisconsin will often fire a ton of shots but not convert on the vast majority of them. In Saturday's game, however, that was not the case as Geoffrion scored on the Badgers' first shot, evening the game up after North Dakota scored the game's first goal.
Discipline was again an issue Saturday, as the Badgers were called for 12 more penalties. The Sioux converted another power play to take a 2-1 lead later in the first period when a North Dakota shot went off of senior defenseman Ryan McDonagh and into the Wisconsin goal.
Three unanswered Wisconsin goals seemed to seal the game, as the Sioux were down by two with under a minute to go in the third period. But after pulling Eidsness for the extra attacker and benefiting from a Wisconsin penalty, North Dakota scored to bring themselves within one goal with just 17 seconds left.
The Badger defense held strong the rest of the way, however, and Wisconsin took the 4-3 victory.
Immediately after the game, both teams let loose the emotions that make this one of the most heated rivalries in college hockey, with a number of Badgers and Sioux getting into fights after the final horn.
Wisconsin will now rest up and prepare for the Badger Hockey Showdown at the Kohl Center Jan. 2 and 3. The Badgers will face Merrimack Jan. 2 and the winner of the Ferris State-Yale game Jan. 3 in non-conference play.