UMD Women Sweep

Minnesota Duluth remained unbeaten at Ralph Engelstad Arena on Sunday afternoon with the help of two goals each from winger Laura Fridfinnson and defenseman Tara Gray in defeating North Dakota 5-0 in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association women’s game in Grand Forks, N.D.

The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (19-7-2 and 15-5-2 WCHA) are 12-0 lifetime at Ralph Engelstad and stretched their unbeaten streak to nine games overall (7-0-2), including six straight wins.

Last-place North Dakota (5-17-4 and 4-16-2) is winless the past seven games (0-6-1).

UMD broke the game open with three goals in four minutes late in the second period while leading 1-0. Gray scored with 4:26 left in the period and Fridfinnson followed 86 seconds later, and added her second goal, on a power play, with 16 seconds remaining. Fridfrinnson also had two assists. Winger Emmanuelle Blais had a goal and an assist, and defenseman Jocelyne Larocque had two assists.

Sophomore goalie Lana Steck gained her first collegiate shutout with 21 saves, and is 3-0 in two seasons.

The Bulldogs are home Friday and Saturday against league-leader and No. 2-rated Minnesota (21-3-4).

Sunday in the WCHA

     Eight games remain in the WCHA regular season and picking an eventual champion is — pretty much impossible. Home teams stepped up a bit Saturday night, three gaining wins to counter Friday losses, and what we have is the top five teams separated by a mere three points. Denver is on top with 28 points, Minnesota Duluth is second with 27, St. Cloud State third with 26, and Wisconsin and Colorado are tied for fourth with 25.  The full standings are at the bottom of this post.

     At home, Colorado College beat St. Cloud State 6-4; UMD blanked Wisconsin 4-0; and Alaska Anchorage edged Minnesota 2-1 in the late game; and on the road Denver finished a sweep of North Dakota 4-2 and Minnesota State-Mankato salved a split with Michigan Tech 3-2.

     The PairWise Rankings here continue to show a strong WCHA presence with four teams in the top six and five in the top 12 — No. 1 Miami of Ohio, No. 2 Denver, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 St. Cloud State, No. 5 Bemidji State and No. 6 UMD (tied with Ferris State and Massachusetts), with No. 12 Colorado College and No. 15 North Dakota.

     This coming weekend is strange with only two WCHA series — UMD at Michigan Tech for Winter Carnival in Houghton, Mich., and Alaska Anchorage at St. Cloud State. Mankato, Minnesota and North Dakota are off; Wisconsin has a single game, at Camp Randall Stadium, on Saturday; and Colorado College and Denver are home trading nonconference opponents, Air Force and Mercyhurst.

     Here’s a look at Saturday’s games:

     In Grand Forks, N.D., the homestanding Fighting Sioux got two Chris VandeVelde goals for a 2-0 lead early in the second period, and Denver scored the next four, three in the second period. Joe Colborne got the game winner, Rhett Rakhshani got his 17th goal of the season, and goalie Marc Cheverie got his 14th victory. North Dakota was swept at home for the first time since December of 2006 — breaking the WCHA’s longest streak without being swept at home.

     “It doesn’t sit very well,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol told the Grand Forks Herald. “It has to be something that’s a real slap in the face and pushes you in the right direction. You can go two ways. You can start to get individualistic and point fingers at one another or you can pull together, do everything a little better and give a little more to your team and teammates. And that’s what we’ll do.”

      In Colorado Springs, Colo., it was a crazy night with five first-period goals, two waved off goals, a Colorado College goalie pulled in the first period and then returning for the win, and St. Cloud State’s nine-game win streak being broken. The Huskies had leads of 3-2 in the first period and 4-2 in the second helped by two Garrett Roe goals, then the Tigers rallied and got two goals from Andrew Hamburg. Goalie Joe Howe was pulled after the first five minutes, then returned for the final two periods for Colorado College. Mike Testwuide’s empty-net goal with 11 seconds to play clinched the victory. St. Cloud State had a goal waved off with 90 seconds to play.

     “Everyone knows we scored that goal,” Huskies coach Bob Motzko told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

     “I was real pleased with our tenacity,” Tigers coach Scott Owens told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

     In Anchorage, Alaska, the split personality of the Anchorage Seawolves was apparent again — at home in WCHA games this season, Anchorage is 0-6 on Fridays and 5-1 on Saturdays. Zach Budish gave Minnesota a 1-0 lead after one period, then Anchorage seniors Josh Lunden (on a power play) and Kevin Clark (shorthanded) scored in the second.There was no scoring in the third. Senior goalie Jon Olthuis got the win.

     “Defensively we played well,” Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Obviously when you score only one goal you’re not going to win too many games.  We’ve got to figure something out here, or we are not going to go where we want to go this year. They scored two specialty teams goals and five-on-five we played pretty well defensively.”

     In Houghton, Mich., Mankato launched 45 shots on goal and took leads of 2-0 and 3-1 against Michigan Tech with Rylan Galiardi, Eriah Hayes and Kael Mouillierat getting goals. Superior’s Brett Olson had Tech’s goals and has 15 this season. Phil Cook (4-1-1) returned in goal for Mankato following a back injury as Mankato broke a six-game WCHA losing streak.

     “In a way, it’s the same old, same old — we gotta finish,” Galiardi told the Mankato Free Press. “But I think we made some strides tonight. The big thing is, we’re still strong defensively. All we can do is keep putting shots on net.”

     And at the DECC, it may have been the retro jerseys worn by UMD or the realization that the WCHA regular-season title is still up for grabs, but UMD made a turnaround from a Friday loss and handed Wisconsin its first shutout loss of the season. UMD remains as the only WCHA team not shut out this season. Here’s the Wisconsin State Journal game story….followed by standings:

Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal

DULUTH, Minn. — In the midst of a quick, painful and ultimately costly performance, Brett Bennett served as an unwitting microcosm for all that went wrong with the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team Saturday night.

The junior goaltender never found a rhythm, was unable to locate his bearings and was undone in part by a lack of focus.

Those were the root causes of a frustrating outing for the second-ranked Badgers, who absorbed a 4-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth before a sellout audience of 5,388 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

The decision meant UW (15-7-4 overall, 11-6-3 with 25 points in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play) fell from a tie for third place with the Bulldogs into a share of fourth with Colorado College.

The weekend began with five schools separated by two points in the manic MacNaughton Cup race and Duluth (17-10-1, 13-6-1, 27 points) holding down the top spot.

It ended with the same five teams separated by three points with Denver holding a one-point edge on the Bulldogs and a two-point lead on St. Cloud State.

En route to being shut out for the first time this season, the Badgers looked little like the high-octane outfit that piled up 52 shots on the way to a dominating 5-2 victory in the series opener Friday.

"We never got it going," UW coach Mike Eaves said. "It wasn’t an easy night for us."

That can be traced in part to Bennett, who allowed a soft goal on the first shot he saw and was yanked for the first time this season after yielding two conversions in the opening 3 minutes, 12 seconds.

"I didn’t give my team a chance to win," said Bennett, who was credited with one save before giving way to junior Scott Gudmandson, who finished with 26 stops.

Duluth right winger Justin Fontaine converted 1:15 into the game when he squeezed off a slapper from just inside the offensive blue line. Bennett gave one of the best snipers in the country an opening at the near-side post and Fontaine found it for his 17th goal.

"A little bit of a knuckle puck," Bennett said. "Just missed it."

The ninth-ranked Bulldogs were on the power play at 3:12 when defenseman Brady Lamb beat Bennett with a wrister low to the glove side.

"We weren’t going to wait around to see if (Bennett) was going to get himself going again," Eaves said of his decision to change goaltenders.

"I don’t know what it was," Bennett said. "It’s weird. I don’t know how to explain it. You’re almost out of rhythm with so much time between games and stuff."

In addition to being in a platoon with Gudmandson, Bennett missed nearly a month of work after dislocating his left shoulder in practice Dec. 8.

"It’s been tough," Bennett said. "I’ve got to get better. I’ve got to mentally prepare better. I know I can play at this level. I know I can play better. I just have to show it."

Two-goal deficits are manageable, but not when you go 0-for-5 on the power play and spend a good chunk of the night wearing a path to the penalty box.

The Badgers were busted for 13 penalties — five more than Duluth — which led to nine power plays for one of the most prolific units in the nation. One was a 5-minute major assessed to UW sophomore center Matt Thurber for charging, which spanned the first and second periods. The Badgers did a highly respectable job killing those penalties, but in the process it rendered one of its biggest advantages moot.

"Depth is one of our strengths and we didn’t use that at all tonight," senior center and tri-captain Ben Street said.

Instead of rolling four lines and wearing down the opposition — a huge factor in the series opener — Eaves had to rely on the same six-man unit of penalty killers.

"It hurts because you’re playing the same guys on the PK and the same guys on defense and it can wear us down," junior defenseman and tri-captain Ryan McDonagh said.

Referees Todd Anderson and Brad Shepherd were inconsistent all weekend, but the Badgers — one of the most penalized teams in the nation — can’t use that as an excuse.

"It felt like every time we got a little bit going, we ended up taking a penalty and it kind of killed the momentum," Street said. "We kind of got unraveled and lost our composure a bit. We were wasting too much energy thinking about that and trying to deal with that.

"At the end of the year, it might happen again and you just can’t afford to chalk one up to bad officiating."

Goaltender Kenny Reiter followed up a 47-save effort with 28 stops on the way to his second career shutout for Duluth. He said neutralizing the UW forecheck was the key to the series split.

"We played a full 60-minute game and that wasn’t the case (Friday) night," he said. "You saw what happens when we play 60 minutes. We can play with any team in the league."

                         Conference Only                    Overall
Pts GP Record Win% GF- GA GP Record Win% GF- GA
1 Denver 28 20 12- 4- 4 .700 59- 49 26 16- 6- 4 .692 81- 66 2 Minnesota Duluth 27 20 13- 6- 1 .675 70- 53 28 17-10- 1 .625 96- 76 3 St. Cloud State 26 20 12- 6- 2 .650 64- 55 28 17- 8- 3 .661 88- 71 4 Wisconsin 25 20 11- 6- 3 .625 75- 48 26 15- 7- 4 .654 101- 62 Colorado College 25 22 11- 8- 3 .568 75- 61 28 15-10- 3 .589 96- 76 6 North Dakota 19 20 8- 9- 3 .475 54- 46 28 13-10- 5 .554 80- 62 7 Minnesota 18 20 8-10- 2 .450 57- 55 28 13-13- 2 .500 78- 77 8 Alaska Anchorage 17 22 8-13- 1 .386 51- 79 26 10-15- 1 .404 63- 93 9 Minnesota State 13 20 6-13- 1 .325 49- 64 28 12-14- 2 .464 75- 74 10 Michigan Tech 6 20 3-17- 0 .150 42- 86 26 4-21- 1 .173 54-110

Final: UMD 4, Wisconsin 0

Minnesota Duluth’s goal was simple Saturday night at the DECC – break a three-game losing streak and remain in contention for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s regular-season championship.

Wisconsin had much the same idea, although the No. 3-ranked Badgers were on a 7-1-3 streak and had dominated the Bulldogs in a Friday win.

UMD turned around its fortunes considerably in 24 hours with a 4-0 victory over Wisconsin before a sellout crowd of 5,388. The No. 8 Bulldogs (17-10-1 and 13-6-1) scored twice in the first four minutes – from Justin Fontaine and Brady Lamb – and goalie Kenny Reiter was superb with 28 saves for his second shutout this season. Wisconsin, the league’s top-scoring team, was held without a goal for the first time this season.

“We were a completely different team [from Friday],” said Reiter, who played in both games. “We might’ve been fortunate to get two quick goals, but we got some bounces after getting nothing Friday. We neutralized their forecheck, we didn’t allow second and third chances and played for 60 minutes.”

The Badgers (15-7-4 and 11-6-3) couldn’t recover from the early deficit, which led to starting goalie Brett Bennett being replaced by Friday winner Scott Gudmandson. The Badgers had outshot UMD 52-19 in a 5-2 victory, then were outshot 31-28 in the rematch. After UMD’s top four scorers were blanked Friday, they came back with three goals and three assists in the win.

The victory put UMD alone in second in the league, one behind leading Denver, which swept at North Dakota. Denver has 28 points and UMD 27, while St. Cloud State is third with 26 and Wisconsin and Colorado College tied for fourth with 25.

The Bulldogs got off to a particularly good start. Fontaine wound up for an attempt at the right circle and scored low to the near side 75 seconds into the game for his 17th goal of the season. It was UMD’s first shot on goal and it surprised Bennett. Just 1:57 later, defenseman Lamb connected 16 seconds into the game’s first power play from high in the slot for his eighth goal of the season.

“It was a rough week [after losing twice to Bemidji State and then to Wisconsin] when we didn’t show up to compete,” said Fontaine. “We changed up our lines and spread our energy all over the ice. We won a lot more [faceoff] draws and then held on to the puck.”

After facing three shots and allowing two goals, Bennett was replaced.

A five-minute major on Wisconsin’s Matt Thurber for a charge on UMD’s Drew Akins gave the Bulldogs a power play spanning the first and second periods, yet the Bulldogs couldn’t cash in.

A hustling play lead to a 3-0 lead with the only goal of the second period. Jack Connolly fought for the puck in the left corner of the offensive zone and went to the net for a wraparound attempt. Gudmandson made the save but Mike Connolly was there for an open-net rebound with 6:39 left.

“The disparity in the game started with the lack of a good start and then we put ourselves behind the 8-ball by continually going to the penalty box,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves of taking 13 penalties and providing nine UMD power plays. “We never got going; it was like swimming up stream. We never had any flow, any rhythm. It wasn’t an easy night for us.”

The lead went to 4-0 at6:15 of the third period as Rob Bordson tipped a Mike Seidel attempt at the crease. Wisconsin had been 3-0-2 the past five games at the DECC, with UMD’s last home win over the Badgers coming on Feb. 4, 2006.

The win kept the Bulldogs from their first four-game losing streak since the end of 2007-08.

“We played a better game from start to finish, better in every aspect,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We answered the bell after a tough loss.”

UMD was without junior defenseman Chad Huttel who took a hit to the head by Wisconsin’s John Ramage in the waning seconds Friday.

UMD is on the road for three of its final four regular-season series, starting this weekend at last-place Michigan Tech.                                      

Wisconsin.……..………….0-0-0—0

Minnesota Duluth……….2-1-1—4

    First period – 1. UMD, Justin Fontaine 17 (Jordan Fulton, Wade Bergman), 1:15; 2. UMD, Brady Lamb 8 (Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly), 3:12 (pp). Penalties – Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin (interference), 2:56; Brendan Smith, Wiconsin (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:38; Jordan Fulton, UMD (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:38; M. Connolly, UMD (roughing), 13:53; Smith, Wisconsin (hooking), 14:27; Matt Thurber, Wisconsin (5-minute charging), 17:47.

    Second period – 3. UMD, M. Connolly 10 (J. Connolly, Grun), 13:21. Penalties – Cody Golobef, Wisconsin (interference), 3:33; Grun, UMD (slashing), 5:45; Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin (interference), 7:39; Bergman, UMD (clipping), 17:03.

    Third period – 4. UMD, Rob Bordson 7 (Mike Seidel), 6:32. Penalties – Dylan Olsen, UMD (insportsmanlike conduct), :07; Craig Smith, Wisconsin (unsportsmanlike conduct), :07; Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin (interference), :57; Jordy Murray, Wisconsin (interference), 3:35; Travis Oleksuk, UMD (hooking), 6:32; Ben Street, Wisconsin (interference), 14:56; Dan DeLisle, UMD (hooking)18:50; Geoffrion, Wisconsin (contact to the head), 19:42.

    Shots on goal – Wisconsin 11-11-6–28, UMD 14-8-9–31. Goalies – Brett Bennett (7-5), Wisconsin (3 shots-1 save); Scott Gudnmandson, Wisconsin (28 shots-26 saves); Kenny Reiter (8-5), UMD (28 shots-28 saves). Power plays – Wisconsin 0-of-5; UMD 1-of-9. Referees – Derek Shepherd, Todd Anderson Assistants – Jared Moen, Matt Anderson. A – 5,388.

Final: UMD 4, Wisconsin 0

Minnesota Duluth’s goal was simple Saturday night at the DECC – break a three-game losing streak and remain in contention for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s regular-season championship.

Wisconsin had much the same idea, although the No. 3-ranked Badgers were on a 7-1-3 streak entering the game and stood tied for third in the league, with UMD, one point behind co-leaders Denver and St. Cloud State.

UMD rebounded from a three-goal loss Friday to smack Wisconsin 4-0 before a sellout crowd of 5,388. The Bulldogs (17-10-1 and 13-6-1) scored twice in the first four minutes – from Justin Fontaine and Brady Lamb – and goalie Kenny Reiter was superb with 28 saves for his second shutout this season. Wisconsin, the league’s top-scoring team, had not been shutout in WCHA play.

The Badgers (15-7-4 and 11-6-3) couldn’t recover from the early deficit, which led to starting goalie Brett Bennett being replaced by Friday winner Scott Gudmandson. The Badgers had outshot UMD 52-19 in a 5-2 victory, while UMD returned the favor 31-28 in the rematch.

UMD had allowed 4.7 goals a game the previous three games while being outscored 14-7. UMD hadn’t lost four straight games since the end of 2007-08.

UMD got off to a particularly good start. Fontaine wound up for an attempt at the right circle and scored low to the near side 75 seconds into the game for his 17th goal of the season. Just 1:57 later, defenseman Lamb connected from high in the slot for his eighth goal of the season.

After facing three shots and allowing two goals, Bennett was replaced. UMD had 14 shots on goal in the opening period.

    A five-minute major on Wisconsin’s Matt Thurber for a charge on UMD’s Drew Akins gave the Bulldogs a power play spanning the first and second periods, yet the Bulldogs couldn’t cash in with the advantage.

A hustling play lead to UMD taking a 3-0 lead with the only goal of the second period. Jack Connolly fought for the puck in the left corner of the offensive zone, then went to the net for a wraparound attempt. Gudmandson made the save but Mike Connolly was there for an open-net rebound with 6:39 left. Wisconsin pushed the pace in the closing minutes of the period but couldn’t get past Reiter.

The lead went to 4-0 at6:15 of the third period as Rob Bordson tipped a Mike Seidel attempt at the crease.

UMD was without junior defenseman Chad Huttel who took a hit to the head by Wisconsin’s John Ramage in the waning seconds Friday.

The WCHA’s top five teams were separated by three points entering Saturday’s games.

Wisconsin was 3-0-2 the past five games at the DECC, with UMD’s last home win over the Badgers coming on Feb. 4, 2006.

UMD is on the road for three of its final four regular-season series, starting this weekend at last-place Michigan Tech.

                                    

Wisconsin.…….…….…….0-0-0—0

Minnesota Duluth……….2-1-1—4

    First period – 1. UMD, Justin Fontaine 17 (Jordan Fulton, Wade Bergman), 1:15; 2. UMD, Brady Lamb 8 (Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly), 3:12 (pp). Penalties – Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin (interference), 2:56; Brendan Smith, Wiconsin (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:38; Jordan Fulton, UMD (unsportsmanlike conduct), 3:38; M. Connolly, UMD (roughing), 13:53; Smith, Wisconsin (hooking), 14:27; Matt Thurber, Wisconsin (5-minute charging), 17:47.

    Second period – 3. UMD, M. Connolly 10 (J. Connolly, Grun), 13:21. Penalties – Cody Golobef, Wisconsin (interference), 3:33; Grun, UMD (slashing), 5:45; Ryan McDonagh, Wisconsin (interference), 7:39; Bergman, UMD (clipping), 17:03.

    Third period – 4. UMD, Rob Bordson 7 (Mike Seidel), 6:32. Penalties – Dylan Olsen, UMD (insportsmanlike conduct), :07; Craig Smith, Wisconsin (unsportsmanlike conduct), :07; Blake Geoffrion, Wisconsin (interference), :57; Jordy Murray, Wisconsin (interference), 3:35; Travis Oleksuk, UMD (hooking), 6:32; Ben Street, Wisconsin (interference), 14:56; Dan DeLisle, UMD (hooking)18:50.

    Shots on goal – Wisconsin 11-10-7–28, UMD 14-9-8–31. Goalies – Brett Bennett (7-5), Wisconsin (3 shots-1 save); Scott Gudnmandson, Wisconsin (28 shots-26 saves); Kenny Reiter (8-5), UMD (28 shots-28 saves). Power plays – Wisconsin 0-of-5; UMD 1-of-9. Referees – Derek Shepherd, Todd Anderson Assistants – Jared Moen, Matt Anderson. A – 5,388.

Saturday in the WCHA

     "Who’s on First?"– a classic vaudeville routine made famous by Abbott and Costello — is being played out in the WCHA as "Who’s in First?" As of Saturday morning, Denver and St. Cloud State had replaced Minnesota Duluth at the top of the league following Friday’s games.

     UMD had been at the top for two weeks, but lost to Wisconsin 5-2 at the DECC, as four of five road teams won to open weekend series. Other games were St. Cloud State winning 5-4 at Colorado College, Denver winning 2-0 at North Dakota, Minnesota winning 7-4 at Alaska Anchorage; while homestanding Michigan Tech broke a 15-game winless streak with a 4-1 win over Minnesota State-Mankato.

     The WCHA standings now show: Denver and St. Cloud State tied for first with 26 points, UMD and Wisconsin tied for thrid with 25 and Colorado College fifth with 23. That’s five teams separated by three points. Right behind are North Dakota in sixth with 19 and Minnesota seventh with 18. Remaining as the tightest race that anyone can remember this late in the season.

     The PairWise Rankings here are WCHA top-heavy — No. 1 Denver (tied with Miami of Ohio), No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 St. Cloud State (tied with Bemidji State), No. 8 UMD (tied with Massachusetts), No. 12 North Dakota, No. 16 Colorado College, No. 21 Minnesota.

      Here are some highlights from the five series, including three matching the league’s top six teams:

      In Grand Forks, N.D., the Denver Pioneers scored twice in the game’s first four minutes and proceeded to shut down North Dakota. Joe Colborne and Tyler Ruegsegger had seven-strength Denver goals and Marc Cheverie made 33 saves for his sixth shutout of the season. North Dakota went 0-9 on  power plays and is in the midst of a 0-28 streak. Aaron Dell started in goal for North Dakota and was replaced after the first pereiod. The Sioux led 33-20 in shots on goal.

     "We obviously want to be more disciplined, especially on the road, but the penalty killers were great," Cheverie told the Denver Post. "Guys were blocking shots, sacrificing their bodies. It’s just a huge win after a disappointing weekend at Wisconsin."

     In Colorado Springs, Colo., the hottest team in Division I continued to roll. St. Cloud State scored three third-period goals, two from red-hot freshman right winger David Eddy, to break from a 2-2 tie and win a ninth straight game. The Huskies are 12-1-1 the past 14 games. Bill Sweatt gave Colorado FCollege a 3-2 lead in the first 19 seconds of the third, but Eddy answered 30 seconds later. Jared Festler got the game winner about midway through the final period. St. Cloud State goalie Dan Dunn is 10-2. Sweatt had two goals for Colorado College, now 2-6 the last eight games.

     “In our league, (the standings) doesn’t matter until really the last week of the year,” St. Cloud State coach Motzko told the St. Cloud Times. “There’s just too tough of competition to ever think about that stuff. Really, you just have to get through, survive your weekends, get some stuff done on the road and do well at home, and when the dust settles if you have a shot at the end, you kind of talk about it. But we’ll never breathe a word of that now.”

     In Houghton, Mich. (where UMD travels next weekend), Michigan Tech scored three first-period goals on the way to snapping that 0-14-1 streak. Malcolm Gwilliam had two goals for the Huskies and Brett Olson of Superior had the game-winner for his 13th goal of the season. Mankato has now lost five straight.

     “We’ve worked really hard. “They guys have stuck with it. There’s been a ton of adversity and we’ve talked at length about wanting to keep moving forward," Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell told the Houghton Mining Gazette.

     “It’s not so much [losing to Michigan Tech], it’s that we’re frustrated with losing,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting, after a lengthy post-game team meeting, told the Mankato Free Press. “It doesn’t matter if it’s that team or someone else.”

     In Anchorage, Alaska, the Minnsota Gophers came up with their most goals this sesason (7), going 3-of-5 on power plays, adding a shorthander, and getting two goals each from Jordan Schroeder and Mike Carman, the game winner from Zach Budish, and one from Patrick White. Minnesota trailed 2-1 in the first, then got three goals in the second period. Anchorage is 0-6 in WCHA Friday home games and have been outscored 32-10.

     "It’s obviously nice to bury some goals,’ Budish told the Anchorage Daily News.

      And at the DECC, Wisconsin broke from a 2-2 first-period and scored the game’s final three goals and is 7-1-3 the last two months. Here’s a Wisconsin State Journal look at the game:

Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal

DULUTH, Minn. — It’s said that misery loves company, which brings us to how Aaron Bendickson and John Mitchell rolled into their Friday night.

Bendickson, a senior center, had gone 11 games without a goal for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, a stretch in which the noted playmaker produced one lonely assist.

Mitchell, a senior left winger, had gone eight games without a conversion, a run in which the noted goal-scorer had generated a measly 13 shots.

The struggling linemates had sunnier mind-sets after the second-ranked Badgers put together a dominating 5-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth before a crowd of 5,1270 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

Mitchell accounted for a unique power-play goal in the first period, while Bendickson came through with an empty-net conversion, two assists and was a demon on faceoffs as UW knocked the Bulldogs from their perch atop the Western Collegiate Hockey Association heading into Saturday night’s series finale.

The two clubs sit one point behind Denver and St. Cloud State and two points ahead of Colorado College in what is shaping up to be an epic, unprecedented chase for the MacNaughton Cup.

Sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner, junior defenseman Brendan Smith and senior center Blake Geoffrion also provided goals for the Badgers, while junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson was credited with 17 saves.

Bendickson, whose week began with a scary on-campus scooter accident that caused him to miss a day of practice, said he was well aware that his production has been off of late.

"You always know that in the back of your mind," he said after collecting his fourth goal of the season. "But the more you think about it, the more you struggle making it happen. You’ve just got to keep playing and grinding."

For his part, Mitchell seemed oblivious to the fact he hadn’t scored since collecting two goals on Dec. 5 against Michigan Tech.

"Now that I think about it, it’s been seven or eight games," he said with a small smile. "I just came in with the mind-set to keep playing the way I’ve been playing."

The goal by Mitchell — he has five now, one season after sharing the team lead with 15 — erased a 1-0 deficit and was set up by an ingenious pass by freshman right winger Craig Smith.

Smith came out of the right corner and purposely angled a pass off the metal base of the goal right to Mitchell, who was waiting alone in the slot. Mitchell snapped off a wrist shot that beat goaltender Kenny Reiter (47 saves).

"It’s one of those tidbits we work on," UW coach Mike Eaves said.

"We practice little plays like that to ourselves, just in tight traffic," Mitchell said. "Today it worked."

The game was in doubt until the Badgers (15-6-4 overall, 11-5-3 with 25 points in the WCHA) scored twice in the final 1 minute, 22 seconds, but there is strong evidence to suggest this was a one-sided encounter.

Start with an overwhelming 52-19 advantage in shots, which represents the fewest registered by the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (16-10-1, 12-6-1, 25 points) this season.

Then there was a 50-23 edge in faceoffs won, which featured stellar showings by Geoffrion (22-9) and Bendickson (14-2).

UW also shut out the third-best power play in the nation on seven tries and limited the dynamic line of left winger Mike Connolly, center Jack Connolly and right winger Justin Fontaine to a combined three shots and a minus-6 rating.

"We didn’t generate much," Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said.

The Bulldogs came into the night converting 28.7 percent of their power plays in league games. The Connolly-Connolly-Fontaine unit made up the top three scoring lines in the WCHA.

Eaves said the penalty-killing effort could be traced to the work of assistant coaches Mark Osiecki and Kevin Patrick, as well as a scout team that mimicked Duluth very well in drills.

"The guys worked as a unit out there," Eaves said, "and Oz and KP did a nice job of going over that this week and making sure we had a feel for what they’re doing."

The Bulldogs rarely got their power play set up because UW pressured them all over the ice.

"That’s what we like to do," Bendickson said. "Get up ice, put pressure on them and not let them get in the zone. You never want to give them time and space."

Eaves noted that it’s tough to see the game from the visiting bench at the DECC.

"Oz and I joked about it," he said. "We’ll see the game really for the first time tomorrow (on video)."

They’re going to like a lot of what they see.

Saturday in the WCHA

     "Who’s on First?"– a classic vaudeville routine made famous by Abbott and Costello — is being played out in the WCHA as "Who’s in First?" As of Saturday morning, Denver and St. Cloud State had replaced Minnesota Duluth at the top of the league following Friday’s games.

     UMD had been at the top for two weeks, but lost to Wisconsin 5-2 at the DECC, as four of five road teams won to open weekend series. Other games were St. Cloud State winning 5-4 at Colorado College, Denver winning 2-0 at North Dakota, Minnesota winning 7-4 at Alaska Anchorage; while homestanding Michigan Tech broke a 15-game winless streak with a 4-1 win over Minnesota State-Mankato.

     The WCHA standings now show: Denver and St. Cloud State tied for first with 26 points, UMD and Wisconsin tied for thrid with 25 and Colorado College fifth with 23. That’s five teams separated by three points. Right behind are North Dakota in sixth with 19 and Minnesota seventh with 18. Remaining as the tightest race that anyone can remember this late in the season.

     The PairWise Rankings here are WCHA top-heavy — No. 1 Denver (tied with Miami of Ohio), No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 4 St. Cloud State (tied with Bemidji State), No. 8 UMD (tied with Massachusetts), No. 12 North Dakota, No. 16 Colorado College, No. 21 Minnesota.

      Here are some highlights from the five series, including three matching the league’s top six teams:

      In Grand Forks, N.D., the Denver Pioneers scored twice in the game’s first four minutes and proceeded to shut down North Dakota. Joe Colborne and Tyler Ruegsegger had seven-strength Denver goals and Marc Cheverie made 33 saves for his sixth shutout of the season. North Dakota went 0-9 on  power plays and is in the midst of a 0-28 streak. Aaron Dell started in goal for North Dakota and was replaced after the first pereiod. The Sioux led 33-20 in shots on goal.

     "We obviously want to be more disciplined, especially on the road, but the penalty killers were great," Cheverie told the Denver Post. "Guys were blocking shots, sacrificing their bodies. It’s just a huge win after a disappointing weekend at Wisconsin."

     In Colorado Springs, Colo., the hottest team in Division I continued to roll. St. Cloud State scored three third-period goals, two from red-hot freshman right winger David Eddy, to break from a 2-2 tie and win a ninth straight game. The Huskies are 12-1-1 the past 14 games. Bill Sweatt gave Colorado FCollege a 3-2 lead in the first 19 seconds of the third, but Eddy answered 30 seconds later. Jared Festler got the game winner about midway through the final period. St. Cloud State goalie Dan Dunn is 10-2. Sweatt had two goals for Colorado College, now 2-6 the last eight games.

     “In our league, (the standings) doesn’t matter until really the last week of the year,” St. Cloud State coach Motzko told the St. Cloud Times. “There’s just too tough of competition to ever think about that stuff. Really, you just have to get through, survive your weekends, get some stuff done on the road and do well at home, and when the dust settles if you have a shot at the end, you kind of talk about it. But we’ll never breathe a word of that now.”

     In Houghton, Mich. (where UMD travels next weekend), Michigan Tech scored three first-period goals on the way to snapping that 0-14-1 streak. Malcolm Gwilliam had two goals for the Huskies and Brett Olson of Superior had the game-winner for his 13th goal of the season. Mankato has now lost five straight.

     “We’ve worked really hard. “They guys have stuck with it. There’s been a ton of adversity and we’ve talked at length about wanting to keep moving forward," Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell told the Houghton Mining Gazette.

     “It’s not so much [losing to Michigan Tech], it’s that we’re frustrated with losing,” Mankato coach Troy Jutting, after a lengthy post-game team meeting, told the Mankato Free Press. “It doesn’t matter if it’s that team or someone else.”

     In Anchorage, Alaska, the Minnsota Gophers came up with their most goals this sesason (7), going 3-of-5 on power plays, adding a shorthander, and getting two goals each from Jordan Schroeder and Mike Carman, the game winner from Zach Budish, and one from Patrick White. Minnesota trailed 2-1 in the first, then got three goals in the second period. Anchorage is 0-6 in WCHA Friday home games and have been outscored 32-10.

     "It’s obviously nice to bury some goals,’ Budish told the Anchorage Daily News.

      And at the DECC, Wisconsin broke from a 2-2 first-period and scored the game’s final three goals and is 7-1-3 the last two months. Here’s a Wisconsin State Journal look at the game:

Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal

DULUTH, Minn. — It’s said that misery loves company, which brings us to how Aaron Bendickson and John Mitchell rolled into their Friday night.

Bendickson, a senior center, had gone 11 games without a goal for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team, a stretch in which the noted playmaker produced one lonely assist.

Mitchell, a senior left winger, had gone eight games without a conversion, a run in which the noted goal-scorer had generated a measly 13 shots.

The struggling linemates had sunnier mind-sets after the second-ranked Badgers put together a dominating 5-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth before a crowd of 5,1270 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

Mitchell accounted for a unique power-play goal in the first period, while Bendickson came through with an empty-net conversion, two assists and was a demon on faceoffs as UW knocked the Bulldogs from their perch atop the Western Collegiate Hockey Association heading into Saturday night’s series finale.

The two clubs sit one point behind Denver and St. Cloud State and two points ahead of Colorado College in what is shaping up to be an epic, unprecedented chase for the MacNaughton Cup.

Sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner, junior defenseman Brendan Smith and senior center Blake Geoffrion also provided goals for the Badgers, while junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson was credited with 17 saves.

Bendickson, whose week began with a scary on-campus scooter accident that caused him to miss a day of practice, said he was well aware that his production has been off of late.

"You always know that in the back of your mind," he said after collecting his fourth goal of the season. "But the more you think about it, the more you struggle making it happen. You’ve just got to keep playing and grinding."

For his part, Mitchell seemed oblivious to the fact he hadn’t scored since collecting two goals on Dec. 5 against Michigan Tech.

"Now that I think about it, it’s been seven or eight games," he said with a small smile. "I just came in with the mind-set to keep playing the way I’ve been playing."

The goal by Mitchell — he has five now, one season after sharing the team lead with 15 — erased a 1-0 deficit and was set up by an ingenious pass by freshman right winger Craig Smith.

Smith came out of the right corner and purposely angled a pass off the metal base of the goal right to Mitchell, who was waiting alone in the slot. Mitchell snapped off a wrist shot that beat goaltender Kenny Reiter (47 saves).

"It’s one of those tidbits we work on," UW coach Mike Eaves said.

"We practice little plays like that to ourselves, just in tight traffic," Mitchell said. "Today it worked."

The game was in doubt until the Badgers (15-6-4 overall, 11-5-3 with 25 points in the WCHA) scored twice in the final 1 minute, 22 seconds, but there is strong evidence to suggest this was a one-sided encounter.

Start with an overwhelming 52-19 advantage in shots, which represents the fewest registered by the ninth-ranked Bulldogs (16-10-1, 12-6-1, 25 points) this season.

Then there was a 50-23 edge in faceoffs won, which featured stellar showings by Geoffrion (22-9) and Bendickson (14-2).

UW also shut out the third-best power play in the nation on seven tries and limited the dynamic line of left winger Mike Connolly, center Jack Connolly and right winger Justin Fontaine to a combined three shots and a minus-6 rating.

"We didn’t generate much," Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said.

The Bulldogs came into the night converting 28.7 percent of their power plays in league games. The Connolly-Connolly-Fontaine unit made up the top three scoring lines in the WCHA.

Eaves said the penalty-killing effort could be traced to the work of assistant coaches Mark Osiecki and Kevin Patrick, as well as a scout team that mimicked Duluth very well in drills.

"The guys worked as a unit out there," Eaves said, "and Oz and KP did a nice job of going over that this week and making sure we had a feel for what they’re doing."

The Bulldogs rarely got their power play set up because UW pressured them all over the ice.

"That’s what we like to do," Bendickson said. "Get up ice, put pressure on them and not let them get in the zone. You never want to give them time and space."

Eaves noted that it’s tough to see the game from the visiting bench at the DECC.

"Oz and I joked about it," he said. "We’ll see the game really for the first time tomorrow (on video)."

They’re going to like a lot of what they see.

UPDATED; Wisconsin 5, UMD 2





The shots on goal were very much in Wisconsin’s favor as Friday night’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association game wore on at the DECC.

But as much as the Badgers dominated in puck possession, they led by just one goal with less than two minutes to play.

No. 3-ranked Wisconsin got two goals in the final 82 seconds to finally pull away from No. 8 Minnesota Duluth for a 5-2 victory before a crowd of 5,170.

The Badgers (15-6-4 and 11-5-3 WCHA) had a final 52-19 advantage to break UMD’s five-game league win streak and knock the Bulldogs from first place after a two-week stay.

“We got up and down the ice and put pressure on [UMD]. We tried to put pressure on them all over the ice,” said Wisconsin senior center Aaron Bendickson, bruised in a scooter accident on the Madison campus earlier this week. “We played well, but we can always better.”

UMD (16-10-1 and 12-6-1), ranked No. 3 in Division I in power play percentage, was 0-for-7 and its top four scorers – Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine, Mike Connolly and Rob Bordson – had no points. They came into the game among the WCHA’s top seven scorers. The Bulldogs have now lost three straight games for the first time this season.

David Grun and Jordan Fulton goals put UMD into a 2-2 after the first period, but Wisconsin outshot the Bulldogs 36-13 the rest of the way and got a go-head goal from defenseman Brendan Smith midway through the second period. It was one of two goals following faceoffs.

UMD sophomore Kenny Reiter’s 47 saves were the most since Josh Johnson’s 62 in a three-overtime playoff loss at St. Cloud State. The 19 shots was a season low for UMD.

“You can look at the shots, and they had way more, but it was still a 3-2 game until late and that’s all that matters,” said Fulton, who has two goals in two games. “Wisconsin’s a good team, a deep team, and deserved to win. We’re just going to concentrate on coming out with a better effort [Saturday] and getting more shots on the goalie.”

It’s been a two-month surge for Wisconsin, now 7-1-3 the past 11 games.

UMD made the most of its first-period chances, scoring on two of six shots on goal for a 2-2 tie. Sophomore winger Grun connected just 86 seconds into the game with an open-net rebound.

The teams then combined for three goals in 42 seconds.

Wisconsin had goals 20 seconds apart as John Mitchell scored on a power play with 9:31 left and defenseman Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka, Minn., a No. 1 NHL Entry Draft pick by Anaheim, followed for a 2-1 lead.

Before things settled down from that outburst, Fulton took a Grun feed and tapped the puck past goalie Scott Gudmandson at the left edge 22 seconds later. Gudmandson is 5-0-3 his last eight games.

Yet, UMD was 0-for-5 in power plays through two periods.

“After the first period, we got adjusted to the [smaller] size of the rink and the pace of the game,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. “Our message this week was just get everything you can at the net.”

The second period belonged to Wisconsin as the Badgers recorded the only goal for a 3-2 lead.  Geoffrion won a faceoff in the offensive zone and Smith connected from the left faceoff circle. In the waning seconds of the game, Bendickson hit an empty net six seconds after Reiter was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:22 to play and Geoffrion scored with 43 seconds to play, his 18th of the season.

Wisconsin leads the league in scoring at 3.89 a game and UMD is second at 3.56.

“Wisconsin was great on faceoffs and puck battles, and we didn’t generate much. But for all of that, Kenny gave us a chance,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, who changed up his lines during the game, looking for a spark.

Denver and St. Cloud State, with victories Friday night,  moved into first-place tie with 26 points, while Wisconsin and UMD are tied for third with 25. The Badgers are 3-0-2 their last five games at the DECC.
                                     

Wisconsin.……………….2-1-2—5

Minnesota Duluth……….2-0-0—2

    First period – 1. UMD, David Grun 2 (Drew Akins, Wade Bergman), 1:26; 2. Wisconsin, John Mitchell 5 (Craig Smith, Ben Street), 10:29 (pp); 3. Wisconsin, Jake Gardiner 2 (Aaron Bendickson), 10:49: 4. UMD, Jordan Fulton 2 (Grun, Akins), 11:11. Penalties – John Ramage, Wisconsin (cross-checking), 2:04; Michael Davies, Wisconsin (boarding), 6:01; Bergman, UMD (holding), 9:04; Mitchell, Wisconsin (hooking), 15:38.

    Second period – 5. Wisconsin, Brendan Smith 10 (Blake Geoffrion), 9:01. Penalties – Geoffrion, Wisconsin (goalie interference), :37; Dylan Olsen, UMD (cross-checking), 5:00; Geoffrion, Wisconsin (slashing), 9:46; Fulton, UMD (cross-checking), 12:49; Dan DeLisle, UMD (roughing), 16:08; Cody Golobef, Wisconsin (roughing), 16:08.

    Third period – 6. Wisconsin, Bendickson 4 (Jake Gardiner), 18:38 (en); 7. Wisconsin, Geoffrion 18 (Bendickson), 19:17. Penalties – Jordy Murray, Wisconsin (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:25; Brady Lamb, UMD (unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:25; Akins, UMD (five-minute major, checking from behind, game misconduct), 11:06; Lamb, UMD (high sticking), 15:29; Street, Wisconsin (interference), 16:14; John Ramage, Wisconsin (contact to the head, game misconduct), 19:53.

    Shots on goal – Wisconsin 16-16-20–52, UMD 6-8-5–19. Goalies – Scott Gudmandson (8-2-4), Wisconsin (19 shots-17 saves); Kenny Reiter (8-5), UMD (52 shots-47 saves). Power plays – Wisconsin 1-of-5; UMD 0-of-7. Referees – Derek Shepherd, Todd Anderson Assistants – Jared Moen, Matt Anderson. A – 5,170.

Final: Wisconsin 5, UMD 2





A two-month surge by Wisconsin stayed on track Friday night as the No. 3-ranked Badgers defeated No. 8 Minnesota Duluth 5-2 in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s game before 5,170 fans at the DECC.

Since the start of December, the Badgers are 7-1-3 and with the win caught UMD in the league standings, each with 25 points. UMD (16-10-1 and 12-6-1) came into the game as the league leader and on a streak of five straight WCHA victories. Wisconsin (15-6-4 and 11-5-3) trailed broke from a 2-2 tie with the game’s final three goals, including Aaron Bendickson and Blake Geoffrion scoring in the final 82 seconds.

Wisconsin led in final shots on goal 52-19.

UMD made the most of its first-period chances, scoring on two of six shots on goal for a 2-2 tie. Sophomore winger David Grun connected just 86 seconds into the game with an open-net rebound.

The teams then combined for three goals in 42 seconds.

Wisconsin had goals 20 seconds apart as John Mitchell scored on a power play with 9:31 left and defenseman Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka, Minn., a No. 1 NHL Entry Draft pick by Anaheim, followed for a 2-1 lead.

Before things settled down from that outburst, senior winger Jordan Fulton took a Grun feed and tapped the puck past Scott Gudmandson at the left edge 22 seconds later. It was Fulton’s second goal in two games, his first two of the season.

The Bulldogs were shut down on three power play attempts in the first period as Wisconsin led 16-6 in shots on goal.

The second period belonged to Wisconsin as the Badgers recorded the only goal for a 3-2 lead. Blake Geoffrion won a faceoff in the offensive zone and Brendan Smith connected from the left faceoff circle past UMD goalie Kenny Reiter at 9:01. It was the 10 goal of the season for the league’s top-scoring defenseman, with 22 points in 18 games.

Bendickson hit an empty net six seconds after Reiter was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:22 to play and Geoffrion scored with 43 seconds to play.

Wisconsin vs. UMD

     It’s sub-zero in Duluth on Friday morning, but it should be plenty warm inside the DECC on Friday night as No. 3 Wisconsin faces No. 8 Minnesota Duluth to open a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series, likely in front of sold out crowds. The games are on Charter 15 in Northeastern Minnesota and in other state Charter areas.

      Here’s what Theresa Spisak of U.S. College Hockey Online has predicted: This should be a great series between not only two of the top teams in the league, but in the nation as well. Let’s go with a split. UMD Friday, UW Saturday.

     Below is some game information and further down an Andy Baggot story in Friday’s Wisconsin State Journal on Wisconsin’s group of star defenseman, including sophomore Jake Gardiner of Minnetonka, Minn.

Wisconsin (14-6-4) at Minnesota Duluth (16-9-1)

Series at a glance

What: WCHA series

When: 7:07 p.m. today and Saturday

Where: DECC (5,294)

Ranking: Wisconsin is No. 3 and UMD No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings.

Radio/TV: KQDS-AM 1490; Charter 15; b2livetv.com pay per view

Series: Wisconsin leads 86-56-13.

Coaches

 Scott Sandelin is 160-182-46 in 10 years at UMD.

 Mike Eaves is 157-117-38 in eight seasons at Wisconsin.

UMD update

UMD is 10-5 at home, outscoring opponents 57-37. After going 36-0-3 while leading after two periods for nearly three years, UMD saw that streak broken in last Saturday’s 5-4 overtime home loss to Bemidji State. The Bulldogs, 1-2-1 versus Wisconsin last season, are facing Wisconsin for the only time this season. UMD’s power play at 24.2 percent is No. 3 in Division I. Junior RW Justin Fontaine leads Division I in power-play goals with 12. Junior W Kyle Schmidt is sidelined with a pinched nerve. Sophomore G Kenny Reiter is expected to start

WISCONSIN update

Wisconsin, 5-4-1 on the road, hasn’t lost consecutive games this season. Senior RW Michael Davies has 101 points in 136 career games after gaining four points last weekend against Denver. Junior G Scott Gudmandson, 4-0-3 the past seven games, has a 2.12 goals-against average to lead the WCHA in league play. The Badgers are No. 2 in scoring in Division I at 4.00 goals a game. Senior C Blake Geoffrion leads the WCHA in goals with 15 in league play. Wisconsin is 6-1-3 the past 10 games.

UMD Probable Lineup

Lines

Mike Connolly-Jack Connolly-Justin Fontaine, Jordan Fulton-Drew Akins-David Grun, Rob Bordson-Travis Oleksuk-Mike Seidel, Cody Danberg-Dan DeLisle-Jake Hendrickson

Defensive Pairs

Mike Montgomery-Dylan Olsen, Scott Kishel-Chad Huttel, Wade Bergman-Brady Lamb

Goalies

Kenny Reiter Brady Hjelle

Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal

DULUTH, Minn. — On the surface, it looks as though the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team is getting maximum production from its defensemen.

The unit ranks No. 1 in the nation in points per game at 3.17. Its members have already combined for as many goals in 24 games as the 2005-06 group produced all season en route to the NCAA title (21).

Woven into those totals is the fact junior Brendan Smith shares the team lead with 30 points (9 goals, 21 assists) and freshman John Ramage and junior Cody Goloubef pace the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in plus/minus at plus-18 and plus-17, respectively.

Then there’s freshman Justin Schultz, whose poise running the power play is a major factor in that unit converting at a very respectable 20.3 percent clip for the second-ranked Badgers.

But entering a pivotal WCHA series with first-place and ninth-ranked Minnesota-Duluth tonight and Saturday night at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, UW sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner believes he has more to give.

“I hope to jump in the play a little more this weekend, he said. “I haven’t had many points this year, as you know, but I’m starting to be a little bit more offensive.”

A year ago at this time, Gardiner showed 2-12-14 en route to 3-18-21. That production, coupled with his size (6-foot-2, 181 pounds) and skating ability, helped explain why Gardiner was a first-round NHL draft pick of Anaheim in 2008.

There are some very good reasons why Gardiner is sitting at 1-2-3 after 22 games this season, but you can tell he’s not comfortable with that output.

“There’s just something about this year,” he said. “I’m not really sure why, but I’m not getting the breaks like I did last year.”

That’s due in part because Gardiner is not on either power-play unit and because UW coach Mike Eaves tries to match him and Ryan McDonagh, a junior tri-captain, against the opponent’s top line.

That will be a major undertaking against the ninth-ranked Bulldogs. Not only do they have the last change as the home team, their top line of left winger Mike Connolly (9-18-27), center Jack Connolly (16-20-36) and right winger Justin Fontaine (16-18-34) is as fearsome as they come.

“You can’t just judge how he’s playing by the points he has,” Eaves said of Gardiner, a 19-year-old from Minnetonka, Minn. “I think he’s playing as well as he ever has.”

Another way to measure Gardiner’s effectiveness is that the Badgers are 8-0-2 when he has a plus rating and 0-4-1 when he’s a minus. Plus/minus reflects the number of goals scored and allowed when a player is on the ice.

“Playing against the big guns on (the opposing) team means a lot,” Gardiner said.

UW assistant coach Mark Osiecki, who tutors the defensemen, said that defensive workload definitely factors into Gardiner’s diminished point total.

“If you’re playing against the other team’s top unit a lot of the time, it’s pretty tough to throw the offensive stats up,” he said.

But all pertinent parties — Gardiner, Eaves and Osiecki — believe Gardiner could do a better job creating offense.

“He’s got to find that balance, of finding those (rush) lanes when he can,” Osiecki said.

“We want him to be more involved 5-on-5 offensively,” Eaves said. “We think he can grow in that area.”

Gardiner got a huge boost from helping Team USA win the World Junior Championships earlier this month. He led the Americans with a plus-9 and got more insights from Osiecki, who was an assistant coach.

Aside from a gold medal, Gardiner said “more confidence” was the biggest byproduct from the experience. That was reflected in Gardiner’s answer when asked if he’s bothered by his dropoff in production.

“As long as the team’s winning, I’m happy,” he said. “A national championship means more to me than points.”