Uncharacteristic Mistakes Cost Wisconsin
by Scott McLaughlin/Senior Writer
MANCHESTER, N.H. Wisconsin entered Friday fresh off a WCHA tournament championship, sporting the second-best record in the country since Jan. 1. Given that its opponent, Massachusetts-Lowell, had the best record during that time, this was the game everyone circled as the best of the first round.
The River Hawks did their part by bringing a great effort, but the Badgers struggled to find the form that made them one of the country's hottest teams, and their season came to an end with a 6-1 loss.
"I thought for our group, it was a little bit atypical, the number of scoring chances we gave up," said coach Mike Eaves. "We saw more 2-on-1s than I've seen against us in a while. I was surprised by that. It seemed like we were almost trying too hard."
Things started relatively well for the Badgers. Even though they found themselves trailing 1-0 after one, they outshot the River Hawks 11-4 in the first and out-chanced them 6-2.
The game slipped away in the second, though. The Badgers got outshot 10-6 in the middle period and made a pair of uncharacteristic defensive mistakes that allowed Lowell to up its lead to 3-0.
A little more than three minutes into the second, no one picked up defenseman Christian Folin as he raced up the middle of the ice to create a 2-on-1 that ended with him beating Joel Rumpel from the low slot. Later in the period, Shayne Thompson snuck behind the Wisconsin defense and took in a pass from Jake Suter that sprung him on a breakaway.
The River Hawks' first and fourth goals also came off defensive lapses. A defenseman got caught up ice on the first, and the fourth came off a turnover at the offensive blue line.
Eaves said Lowell wasn't really faster or more aggressive than other teams Wisconsin has played, but the Badgers still gave Lowell credit for getting them out of their game.
"Whenever they get a chance, they go. They'll send four guys," said senior captain John Ramage. "We scouted that. I think at times we played it well, but at times we didn't. That's what led to the odd-man rushes. The defensemen need to read off the play and make sure we hold two guys back. There were a few times we got caught up, and they got odd-man rushes and capitalized on them."
Offense hasn't been nearly as much of a strength for the Badgers as defense this season, but it had been over the past month. They entered Friday averaging nearly four goals per game over their previous 11 contests. But, as was the case on defense, the Badgers just couldn't sustain that level of play against Lowell.
They had some chances, but they failed to capitalize. The best opportunity came on a first-period penalty shot by Jefferson Dahl that could've tied the game, but he couldn't solve Connor Hellebuyck. With the score at 3-1 in the third, Ramage and Nic Kerdiles both had great chances from in close, but Ramage shot wide and Kerdiles fanned.
Friday night's loss shouldn't take anything away from Wisconsin's remarkable turnaround this season. The Badgers went from starting 1-7-2 to winning the Broadmoor Trophy and reaching the NCAA tournament. They needed to play flawless hockey just to get here, and they did. On Friday, they just had too many flaws against a Lowell team that made them pay.
"They're young men. They want to do so well," Eaves said, referring to his team trying to do too much. "They've been playing some really good hockey for a long time. They wanted to win for each other, but sometimes young men get out of their comfort zone and do things that they shouldn't. We paid a high price for it."