Badgers, Earl Feel the Frustration
by Derrik Sovak/CHN Correspondent
The Wisconsin Badgers were ahead 2-0 in the first period of the WCHA Final Five semifinal game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. on Friday afternoon. But two quick goals from North Dakota's Rylan Kaip and Ryan Duncan started a downhill slide for the Badgers that didn't end before the Sioux rallied to a 4-3 win.
For Wisconsin, it's another loss for a team that has been having trouble holding on to a lead. For Wisconsin's Robbie Earl, the frustrations are coming out on the ice.
"They did a good job of getting into my head," Earl said after Friday's loss to North Dakota. "We had a good amount of intensity after those first two goals went in, but we just couldn't match the intensity they were giving back."
Earl tallied one goal in the contest for Wisconsin; he fired his 20th score to bring the Badgers within one, but it wasn't enough to rally his team. He had other opportunities, but was also banged around quite a bit by the big North Dakota defense.
"We tried, but we just couldn't get those two goals back," Earl said.
But it's not to say the Badgers were outplayed the entire game.
"When they scored those two goals almost back-to-back they took the momentum from us," Earl said. "It's disappointing that we couldn't pop that last one in."
Wisconsin had several chances to score late in the third period, but Sioux goaltender Jordan Parise held off the barrage of Badger shots.
"North Dakota stayed with it," Badger head coach Mike Eaves said. "They got themselves back into the game by taking us out of it, and we couldn't stay with them."
Eaves said earlier in the week that he was proud his team hadn't gotten too frustrated during its slump after goalie Brian Elliott got hurt. But when Elliott came back, there was a weekend where it was clear that the frustration was coming out in the form of penalties.
So with four straight wins — allowing two goals in the process — against St. Cloud State and Michigan Tech, it appeared things were stabilizing, but against a top-notch opponent, it appeared those frustrations rose to the surface again.
Standing out amongst those penalties was an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Earl at 15:51 of the second period to give the Sioux a power play. That call, Earl said, was the direct result of UND's ability to get in his head.
"They did a lot of things to get to me," Earl said. "I'm not going to get into anything in particular, but little jabs down low and some chippy things really got to me."
Coach Eaves wasn't disappointed in the unsportsmanlike call; he saw it as a step towards catching up.
"At least he came out with a little fire-up and spunk out there," Eaves said. "In a game where you're waiting for something to happen and someone to step up, it's good to see anything that gets the team into the game."
The Badgers know that they are a team that can compete in the college hockey postseason; it's a place that they've been before. But in order for them to move further into postseason play, they'll need to get this monkey off their back.
"We run into a little snag when teams come back at us." Eaves said. "That's something we're going to need to work hard to rectify."
The players, especially Earl, feel the same way.
"We're a veteran team, we've played excellent before, but stepping up against teams that are beating us comes from the inside."
Of course, the Badgers are still in the NCAA Tournament, and in as a No. 1 seed. But how long they last will depend on how quickly things can be corrected.