Chicago, Il — Wisconsin scored early, and they scored often. They scored at even strength, on the power play and on the penalty kill. They scored so much that JD Greenway pointed to the scoreboard while fighting with a Notre Dame player in the game’s final minute. And thenthey even scored another one after the sophomore defenseman got tossed, just for good measure. When the dust settled, the Badgers had scored five goals, more than the Fighting Irish had allowed in a game in three months.
The 5-0 rout, which snapped Notre Dame’s (13-1-0 Big Ten, 19-4-1 overall) 16-game winning streak, marked easily the best performance of the year for Wisconsin (6-8-2, 12-12-3) — a performance that had Badgers coaches and players talking postgame about the win sparking a season-changing run.
“As a team it’s a huge rebound for us and it’s a good kickstart going forward,” junior forward Will Johnson said. “Emotionally, we have been waiting for this kind of spark to get us going, and I think this is a huge one that can really get us going in the right direction.”
Over the past three months, Notre Dame and Wisconsin couldn’t have performed much differently: the Fighting Irish reeled off 16 consecutive wins and established themselves as the nation’s top team behind sophomore goalie Cale Morris, while Wisconsin had won just six of 18 and loitered around the bottom of the Big Ten standings. But on Sunday afternoon, it was the Badgers that looked like the nearly unbeatable juggernaut backed by a star goaltender.
The tone was set early when freshman defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk, fast becoming Wisconsin’s best player, took the puck behind his own net and embarked on a 200-foot rush that showcased all the skills that have him leading Big Ten defensemen in scoring. The Manitoba native glided through the neutral zone and evaded one Notre Dame attacker with a quick burst of speed before smoothly eluding two successive Irish defenders with a fake slap shot and slotting the puck behind Morris’ back on a low-angle shot.
“We turn him loose, we try to turn all our D loose like that,” head coach Tony Granato said. “He is playing with a ton of confidence and he is a very dynamic offensive defenseman.”
Wisconsin struck twice more in the second, first on a shorthanded breakaway by sophomore forward Trent Frederic, and then again in the period’s final minute when junior Seamus Malone took a pass from Kalynuk at the point and stepped into a rocket on the high glove side.
The Badgers added two more goals — from freshmen forwards Linus Weissbach and Sean Dhooghe — in the game’s final minute that turned the final score from a surprise to a statement.
All the scoring wouldn’t have been possible without the stellar play of goaltender Jack Berry, who recorded a 40-save shutout and was named the game’s first star. Berry made several key saves in the first period, including on a breakaway by Notre Dame’s Cam Morrison, that kept the game level and gave the skaters a chance to take control.
“It all starts with Jack in net,” Malone said. “He played unbelievable. When you have confidence in your goaltender like that, it’s easy to play defence and stay five as a group and move the puck up together and go offensively.”
Playing on the biggest stage, against the toughest opponent, Badgers up and down the roster stepped up to provide the performance of the season. Coming just hours after the death of former Wisconsin player and USA Hockey legend Jim Johannson, an emotional loss for the players and especially coach Granato, it was a game the team won’t soon forget.