Roundup: Wisconsin, Minnesota Reeling Into Break; Notre Dame Remains Perfect in Big Ten
CHN Staff Report
A season of great promise is in danger of slipping away from Wisconsin.
After a 6-2 start to this season, coming on the heels of just missing the NCAAs in Tony Granato's first season as head coach a year ago, there was a lot of optimism in Madison. But since then, the Badgers are 4-7-2 after getting swept this weekend at home by Notre Dame.
Friday, the Badgers blew a 2-0 third-period lead. Saturday was more even until, again, the Irish dominated the third and won going away, 6-2.
Granted, Notre Dame has won 13 straight and is undefeated in the Big Ten. But Wisconsin heads into the holiday break with its confidence suddenly waning.
“It’s not great timing," Granato said. "I think coming into this weekend off of last weekend, we had high expectations for ourselves, thinking that we were going to find rhythm. Last night’s game was probably good enough to win, this night’s wasn’t. So it is disappointing, there’s no question.
“It’s a season of learning. It’s a season that’s different from last year. Our expectations in ourselves are a lot greater so losses hurt a lot more. And losses are a lot more confusing when you think, at the start of the year, your expectations of being an elite team mean you win consistently. We have not won consistently, and that’s disappointing. I still believe this team can win consistently. I still believe this team can be a contender, but after the first half of the year we have to come back and have a different mindset each and every game, each and every shift, and how we face each and every opponent. We haven’t been consistent enough to deserve to be with North Dakota, with the team we played tonight, Notre Dame, and with Minnesota. We have to be more consistent if we want to be a ranked team or a national contender.”
It hasn't helped that the All-American goaltender the team brought in to such huge expectations, Kyle Hayton, continues to get lit up. He allowed five goals Saturday and his save percentage is .887. Hayton was .929 or higher each of three seasons at St. Lawrence, then accelerated getting his degree last summer to transfer to Wisconsin. Last season's goaltending was sub-par for the Badgers, and Hayton was supposed to fix that.
"I think it just comes down to the fact that we can't close games right now," freshman Sean Dhooghe said. "I think that's something we're trying to figure out as a group still. We're going to go on a break here and I think that's one of the most important things we need right now is to be able to regroup, as a team and individuals. We need to come back stronger, ready to learn and ready to work."
Meanwhile, the Irish just keep on rolling. Cal Burke had a hat trick, and Dennis Gilbert scored twice. Andrew Oglevie and Cam Morrison each had two assists, while Cale Morris made 39 saves.
“(Morris) is sharp. He covers a lot of net. He’s quick. He gets back to position quick. He’s confident," Granato said. "His players around him are very confident. He’s the best goalie that I’ve seen in college hockey.”
Both teams are off until after New Year's.
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Another team in a disappointing mid-season tailspin is Minnesota. The Gophers have lost five of the last six to drop to 10-9-1 after getting swept this weekend by Ohio State in Columbus. It's the first time in the five-year history of Big Ten play that Minnesota, which has won the first four league regular-season championships, has lost three league games in a row.
Both games with the Buckeyes were close; Ohio State won 2-1 in overtime Friday, then held onto a 2-1 lead Saturday before getting a pair of empty netters. Matt Miller scored the game winner with 5:13 remaining.
"I thought our team came out and threw the first punch and played well for most of the first period and just couldn't find the back of the net," OSU coach Steve Rohlik said. "Obviously, momentum changes through some power plays and they got some momentum but our team just hung in there and our goalie made saves. It was enough to win a hockey game."
Sophomore Mat Robson made his collegiate debut in net for Minnesota, as junior Eric Schierhorn saw his streak of 94 consecutive starts come to an end. It's the fourth-longest such streak in NCAA history.
The Buckeyes killed off all five Minnesota power plays.
"We've got a lot of guys buying in," Rohlik said about his team's PK. "We talk a lot about blocking shots but at the end of the day your best penalty killer is the guy in the net. When we've got as many guys buying in to doing the little things you’re going to have a lot of success."
Junior goalie Sean Romeo made 33 saves, with the only goal allowed coming on a bad bounce.
"I felt like I was seeing the puck well and our team was playing great," Romeo said. "Bounces like that are going to happen. You hate to see it in a tight game like that, but I figured that if I could just keep doing my job our team would put the puck in the net and come out on top."
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Also in the Big Ten ... Penn State swept a pair of games from in-state opponent Robert Morris over the weekend, with both games being played in Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena. Denis Smirnov had two goals and two assists in Saturday's 7-4 win. ... And Michigan and Michigan State took turns blanking the other this weekend, with the games played Thursday and Friday. Tony Calderon had a hat trick for Michigan in Thursday's 4-0 win, then the Spartans returned the favor with a 5-0 blanking Friday. Patrick Khodorenko scored twice while John Lethemon got the shutout.