Although you can find many former Wisconsin Badgers littered among NHL rosters, that success at putting talent into the professional ranks has not translated into big wins against the other elite programs in the conference, especially under the tenure of head coach Tony Granato.
However, Wisconsin made major efforts to change that narrative by sweeping the No. 10 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first series of the 2020 Big Ten season. Wisconsin looked like the better team for close to six straight periods, winning the first game on Friday night 2-0 and winning Saturday’s matchup in a shootout 5-3.
Friday night’s game was about as physical as a hockey game can be. After not playing a game in months, both teams came out pounding with big hits along with strong contention for the puck throughout the first two periods.
Senior and Sweden native Linus Weissbach opened up the scoring for the 2020 season for the Badgers off an assist down the middle by fellow senior Ty Pelton-Byce, who hails from Madison and whose father was a star for the Badgers in the early ‘90s. Wisconsin would end the first period up 1-0.
Wisconsin, after killing their first penalty of the second period, then went on a power play that ended with the talented sophomore from Alberta, Dylan Holloway, scoring the Badgers’ second goal of the season off an assist from Weissbach. Weissbach would end the day with a goal and an assist for his first two-point game of the season.
The graduate transfer from Michigan Tech, Robbie Beydoun, also shined in net on Friday night in his first game with the Badgers, a shutout victory with 25 saves.
Action on Saturday started just as lopsided as Friday with the Badgers opening a 2-0 lead after Pelton-Byce scored off an assist from the talented sophomore Cole Caufield. Ryder Donovan scored off assists from Jack Gorniak and Owen Lindmark, putting Wisconsin in front by a pair.
Notre Dame then went on a power play where senior leftwing Colin Theisen scored two straight goals, tying the game at 2-2.
Wisconsin then scored again off a sniper shot from Brock Caufield, followed by Notre Dame’s Theisen’s hat trick goal that tied the game up again at three.
At this point of the game, this was generally where Wisconsin’s past teams under Granato often folded under pressure, and let the game get away from them. However, this year’s Badgers team stepped up with a special down-ice wrap around score by Holloway who notched his second score of the series, sniping it in the top corner of the goal.
Wisconsin would go on to score again off a nice shot by Donovan, while holding Notre Dame scoreless even when they took out their goalie on their final power play.
This series sweep marked the first time under Granato’s tenure where they had a series sweep against Notre Dame, and the first time since 2005. The manner in which the Badgers were able to not only hang with Notre Dame but also beat them in almost every aspect on the ice was something that we have not seen under Granato. It could mark a huge shift for this program, especially if Wisconsin is able to rise to the top tier of the Big Ten after three straight seasons where they failed to even make the NCAA Tournament.
After the win, Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato commented on the unique nature of this season being without fans and how it affected Wisconsin in this matchup.
“You come into the unknown without the fans,” Granato said. “You come on the road. You don’t play a game in a long time and you’re able to come up with an effort back to back games like that, you’ve got to pat them on the back and let them know how proud you are of them.”
One of the most impressive pieces of the series sweep was how Wisconsin was able to do it without major contributions from their biggest star in Cole Caufield. The NHL first-round pick and future Montreal Canadien, Caufield was largely held out of the box score besides his one rebound assist as Notre Dame focused much of their defensive attention to stopping his ability to make explosive plays.
Instead, Wisconsin relied on one of other talented sophomores in Holloway to ensure a victory against the Fighting Irish, as he scored two of Wisconsin’s seven goals of the weekend.
After the Saturday game, Holloway was asked about his impressive top-corner shot in the second period.
“It’s a low-percentage shot,” Holloway said. “I’m sure I could have held onto the puck a little longer and made a more high-percentage play to someone else and passed it. I think for that particular time I got a little lucky, but I’m happy it went in.”
Wisconsin fans should look at this series sweep of a talented Notre Dame team and be excited for the potential of this Badger offense. Holloway and Caufield could develop into a strong one-two punch for this team if Caufield — one of the best scorers in the country — can get his shot going, creating a potentially lethal attack for Granato’s high-powered offense.
Wisconsin will seek to carry the momentum of this strong opening series as they head home to begin a six-game homestand with a battle against Michigan at LaBahn Arena on Thursday, Nov. 18 and then again on Friday, Nov. 19.