Madison, Wis.—For 53 minutes North Dakota owned Wisconsin.
For 53 minutes, barely more than a low murmur echoed from the crowd of 13,460—aside from the cheers of the smattering of Fighting Sioux fans that graced the Kohl Center.
Then Robbie Earl pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
Earl knotted the score at 3-3 with his second goal Friday night with just one minute and one second showing on the clock, then won it at 1:53 in overtime.
"I played really emotional and I think that my emotion led to opportunities for me and my line and fortunately I got some big goals," Earl said.
Earl's hat trick was the first for Wisconsin in four years (Dany Heatley, Feb. 19, 2000 at Alaska Anchorage) and the first ever by a Badger in the Kohl Center.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Badgers (10-6-5 WCHA, 16-9-6 overall) and drew them within four points of first-place North Dakota (13-3-3, 19-4-3) in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Wisconsin had no business being in this game. Not after allowing three goals in an anemic first period; a 20-minute span when the Badgers appeared to be sleepwalking while the No. 1 team in the country had its way with them.
But little by little the tide turned. Earl made it 3-1 in the second period—with his back to North Dakota junior netminder Jake Brandt, Earl flung a backhand toward the net that skirted beneath the goalie's pad. Still, the Sioux were in command, a suffocating defense keeping Wisconsin from earning quality scoring chances.
Wisconsin, though, hung around and just more than 13 minutes into the third period got the break it needed. With North Dakota on a power play, Badger junior goaltender Bernd Bruckler took a risk, skating out of his crease and playing the puck up ice. Bruckler's pass made its way down to Brandt, who skated well up the slot to return the favor. Brandt's risk, though, was the Badgers' reward. Wisconsin freshman defenseman Ryan Suter knocked the puck away from Sioux senior center David Lundbohm, sending the puck bounding toward freshman center Andrew Joudrey, who put what might have been an innocent wrist shot on net. Brandt, though, was still well out of position and made an awkward attempt at the puck—it glanced off his pad and trickled into the net, sending a moribund Kohl Center crowd into a frenzy that did not ebb until well after the game had ended.
"We got the first goal and then we were in the game," Bruckler said. "It just put North Dakota with their backs against the wall and we were like an avalanche—we just kept coming at them."
Earl did the rest. The Badgers' enigmatic could-be star, a freshman who has shown flashes of brilliance, came to the forefront and delivered on this night.
"He's one of those players, offensively gifted, high-risk, high-reward and you tend to put up with a little bit of some turnovers," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said before pausing. "He came up big tonight.
"We had a heart-to-heart this week...I think Robbie falls into that area that he has talent like (North Dakota sophomore forward) Zach (Parise) but I don't know if Robbie would cut his mother's finger off to win at something—and that's the attitude Zach has. He's going to win at everything. So I said, 'you need to learn to get to that level and if you do because of the God-given gifts you have you could do something special.'"
"He just said, 'I can be a great player if I want to be,'" Earl said.
At least Friday, the pep talk did the trick. With time winding down in regulation freshman wing Ross Carlson flailed on the ice between the circles, holding the puck in the zone and kicking it to freshman linemate Jake Dowell, who feathered it toward Earl, camped out in front of the net. Earl put one backhand on goal and Brandt made the save, but Earl controlled the rebound and this time lifted a backhand shot over Brandt's pad to make it 3-3.
The fairy tale ending culminated with Earl skating hard toward the net, making a move but catching a stick between his legs and falling to the ice. With the puck still on his blade, in one fluid motion Earl raised himself to his knees and fired a wrist shot into the back of the net, culminating Wisconsin's biggest comeback since it rallied from a 6-2 deficit with 13:22 left in third period against North Dakota on Dec. 7, 2001. Prior to Friday's game, the Sioux were 13-0-1 win leading after two periods this season.
The Badgers fell behind not even two minutes into the first period and by the 17:45 mark trailed 3-0.
'The disappointing thing was on the bench when it was 2-0 nobody kind of took charge," Eaves said. "So we went in between the first and second and we had a heart-to-heart about that—like, 'you know fellas, if we say we want to be a contending team....you fellas need to take charge of this. Too many times the coaching staff has come and given you our energy—it has got to come from you guys...What was the turning point of this game? To me it was the response that our team had at the beginning of the second period because you could definitely tell that was a different team than the first period."
Score by period
Shots on goal by period
ND 1 - Matt Jones (6) from Zach Parise (18) and Brady Murray (17), PPG, at 1:54
ND 2 - Chris Porter (7) from Brandon Bochenski (23) and David Lundbohm (8) at 9:06
ND 3 - Parise (14) from Matt Greene (11) at 17:45
UW 1 - Robbie Earl (9) from Ross Carlson (6) and Dan Boeser (12) at 12:01
UW 2 - Andrew Joudrey (6) from Ryan Suter (12), SHG, at 13:35
UW 3 - Earl (10) from Jake Dowell (10) and Ross Carlson (7) at 18:59
UW 4 - Earl (11) from Dowell (11) and Carlson (8) at 1:53
ND - Jake Brandt (61:53) - 23 saves, 4 goals allowed
UW - Bernd Bruckler (61:53) - 25, 3