The Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team lost their first of the season Saturday in a scoreless 0-2 game against the No. 7 University of North Dakota (UND) Fighting Hawks.
The match marked the Badgers’ first game of the season against a ranked opponent and laid bare some of the same issues the team has displayed against unranked opponents.
The Badgers started the game with a great opportunity, killing off the first Fighting Hawks power play and then going on a power play of their own halfway through the period. However, UND’s Hunter Johannes, wide open in the slot, got a pass from behind the net and buried it in the top corner of Kyle McClellan’s net for the Fighting Hawks.
Just past six minutes into the second period, UND’s Riese Gaber found himself wide open in the slot mere feet away from McClellan, received a pass from behind the net and, with plenty of time, tucked it away in the top of the net on the backhand.
The Fighting Hawks would shut out the Badgers in all three periods despite the Badgers shooting 29 shots on net, similar to the Fighting Hawks’ 28.
Better opponent takes advantage of consistent Badger weaknesses
The Fighting Hawks exposed the underlying issues of the Badgers team with ease.
Most notably, the Badgers power play continues to be an issue — a problem that traces back to last season. The Badgers went 0-4 on the power play with six power play minutes and gave up their first shorthanded goal of the season.
Shorthanded goals happen to even the best teams every now and then, but the Badgers are 1/19 on the power play and have given up as many shorthanded goals as goals they’ve scored on the power play.
The Badgers also have to convert on critical opportunities while giving their opponents harder scoring chances. Both goals Saturday came in a near-identical fashion, and both were reminiscent of the Badgers’ defensive shortcomings Friday against Bemidji State.
The Badgers put one shot more on net than the Fighting Hawks, yet they failed to convert on a single one of those opportunities. The solution here is either more patience before shooting the puck or creating more dangerous opportunities in front of the net.
William Whitelaw continues to perform well for the team, putting a team-high six shots on net Saturday. Likewise, the Badgers’ penalty kill team continues to perform well, keeping UND off of the scoresheet on five power plays for a total of 22 kills of 23 attempts on the season.
The Badgers will travel next to Houghton, Michigan to face an equally challenging two-game series against No. 9 Michigan Tech. Those games will take place Oct. 21 and 22 and will be the last before the Badgers’ first Big Ten matchup against Minnesota the week after.
Ian Wilder is a current features writer and former state politics reporter for The Daily Cardinal. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.