A Slipperier Slope for UW Hockey

Forget the NCAA playoffs. No.13 Wisconsin is struggling just to get home ice in the league playoffs. Going from fourth place to sixth place in two weeks, the Badgers capped a winless February with its worst performance yet, a 7-3 blasting by St. Cloud State Saturday.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Rock bottom.

There aren't many more fitting ways to describe where the Wisconsin men's hockey team (19-13-4, 11-12-3 WCHA) is right now. The winless streak is at six games, the latest contribution being a 7-3 loss to St. Cloud State – really a 7-1 loss, as the Badgers scored twice in the last 23 seconds of the game.

But despite what sounded like a heated closed-door team meeting after the game that lasted almost an hour, the Badgers are trumpeting optimism following a weekend that didn't give a lot of reasons to agree with that mindset.

That's not to say there wasn't an admission of where the team is at right now.

"It's the time of the season where we maybe hit rock bottom and the only place to go is up," senior forward Patrick Johnson said.

"Maybe we bottomed out," head coach Mike Eaves said. "And there's no place to go but up."

Eaves said he wants his players to "take the reins" after a series where St. Cloud State looked firmly in control.

Down 3-1, a five-minute major penalty on Jordy Murray at 7:24 of the third period for kneeing David Eddy gave SCSU (14-15-5, 10-12-4) the power play it needed to essentially, end the game. Garrett Roe and Nick Oslund scored to make it 5-1, then as the penalty expired, Eddy made a diving swing at a rebound for the Huskies' sixth goal.

Later, with Wisconsin on the power play, UW goaltender Scott Gudmandson had the puck stolen by Aaron Marvin behind his net, and Marvin circled around and tucked the puck in the empty net to make the score to 7-1.

Johnson scored with 23 seconds left and Podge Turnbull added a goal with 11 seconds left.

At one point, it was a 2-1 game. Down 2-0 after goals by SCSU's Roe and Travis Novak, UW's Derek Lee left a puck in the left circle for Johnson, who put a one-timer past Husky goaltender Dan Dunn at 7:38 of the second period.

Marvin put a loose puck over Gudmandson at 13:18 of the period to push the lead back to two goals.

Despite the backbreaking penalty on Murray, Eaves pointed to the first period as the thing that disappointed him most.

"I do not understand the energy level that we had in the first period on the bench," he said. "That's the one thing that as far as this group coming together; they're kind of looking around, like ‘You're going to do it, no you're going to do it, no this guy's going to do it.'"

UW managed just three shots on goal in that period, a microcosm of the offensive struggles the Badgers endured all weekend. Wisconsin went 0-4 on the power play and managed just three shots on goal in those man-advantages.

During Friday night's 4-2 loss, injuries and disappointing performances forced the UW coaching staff to mix up its lines and defensive pairings. At the beginning of Saturday's game, the only line that remained unchanged from Friday's pre-game line chart was the fourth line of Jefferson Dahl, Keegan Meuer and Sean Little.

By the second period, the changes Eaves had made to his lines to "mix things up" had been abandoned. Which, along with the posts the Badgers hit and chances they missed, made for a weekend where seemingly nothing could go right for UW.

So now, the Badgers find themselves likely needing a sweep of Colorado College in the regular season finale to earn home ice for the WCHA playoffs. This comes after a February that began with UW sitting within striking distance of the league's leaders and ended with it going 0-5-1.

It looks and feels like a desperate situation for the Badgers. But if Eaves and the Badgers agree, they are certainly not admitting it.

"I don't put terms like that on it. I refuse – because when you put those terms on it, you're talking about a negative," Eaves said. "What is being presented here is an opportunity to grow."

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