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Friday, April 19, 2024
Special teams drive UW past Vermont and SCS

Davies: Senior forward Michael Davies contributed to a productive power-play unit for UW Friday against Vermont.

Special teams drive UW past Vermont and SCS

ST. PAUL, Minn.—In one game at the NCAA West Regional it was the power play, the next it was the penalty kill, but one of the key factors that punched Wisconsin's ticket to the Frozen Four was the Badgers' strength on special teams.

Despite some inconsistencies on the power play earlier this season, Wisconsin was nearly unstoppable on the man advantage against Vermont March 26. All three Badger goals came with a Catamount player in the penalty box as Wisconsin claimed a nail-biting 3-2 win to advance to the regional finals.

Head coach Mike Eaves said after the win that the team had to do well on special teams if it wanted to succeed in the postseason.

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""When you get into regional games and playoff games you're looking at your goaltender [and] you're looking at your special teams,"" Eaves said. ""The special teams have been solid for us [and] tonight was an example.""

Wisconsin's power-play unit moved the puck effectively against Vermont, something that was most apparent in senior forward Blake Geoffrion's game-winning goal. After junior defenseman Brendan Smith held the point on a pass from sophomore forward Derek Stepan, Smith dished the puck to freshman defenseman Justin Schultz, who made a nice behind-the-back pass to Geoffrion for the goal.

The top line of Stepan, Smith, Schultz, Geoffrion and senior forward Michael Davies was in action for all three Wisconsin goals. Smith said the fact that all of his linemates are a threat helped the Badgers confuse the Catamounts' penalty kill and accounted for the trio of power-play goals.

""If they took me away, we went down to Mikey. Mikey is so talented with the puck he found Blake or back out to [Stepan],"" Smith said. ""Sometimes they were running around and didn't know who to cover.""

St. Cloud State held the power play scoreless Saturday night as the Badgers went 0-for-6. However, Wisconsin's offense excelled in even-strength situations, and the penalty kill kept the Huskies at arm's length. Despite committing seven penalties in the physical game, the Badgers were perfect on the kill, showcasing their aggressive style that made it difficult for St. Cloud State to bring the puck into the offensive zone.

""We just couldn't breathe on our power play,"" Husky head coach Bob Motzko said. ""There were plays to be made, but we just couldn't fight through.""

Any time St. Cloud tried to advance the puck on the power play, the Wisconsin kill was there to make it difficult, and when they did make it into the Badger zone, the defense in front of junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson kept the Huskies from pressuring him too much.

""They pressured us hard today. They got to all of the loose pucks, won the battles,"" St. Cloud State sophomore forward Jared Festler said about the Badger defense. ""We just didn't move the puck as well as we normally do, and that's what cost us.""

Junior defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Wisconsin's familiarity with St. Cloud was a big reason for their success. The teams had faced off five times before Saturday's game, with the Huskies winning the most recent matchup at the WCHA Final Five semifinals, something McDonagh said gave the Badgers an advantage in knowing what to expect from their power play.

""They win a lot of their games on special teams, and having played them now for the sixth time this year we know their strength is to get on the power play and try to take advantage of that,"" he said. ""Everybody that was out there on the PK units did a tremendous job.""

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