Heading into its series with St. Cloud State, the Wisconsin men's hockey team could have expected that goals would be at a premium. After all, the two teams are among the strongest defensive clubs in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and neither has consistently put the puck in the net.
In addition, the season is winding down, playoff seeds are on the line, and the pace is quickening.
"That is what guys said in the locker room before the game and between each period, ‘this is playoff hockey, we are playing for playoff points right now,'" Wisconsin sophomore center Adam Burish said. "That is the atmosphere out there. It is hard. The pace is faster, more hitting, guys are jawing at each other. This is a fun time to play, end of the season, you've got to get up for these kinds of games."
Both teams stepped up Friday in one of the more lively games to grace the Kohl Center this season. In a contest filled with up-and-down action, tight checking, big hits and plenty of scoring chances, each unit could come up with just one goal. St. Cloud State freshman netminder Tim Boron made 31 saves, including 14 in the second period, while Badger junior Bernd Bruckler had 22 stops.
"It is tough to score goals this time of year because teams now have had good coaching, they've been together, they've had a lot of repetitions and there wasn't a lot of second and third chances in front of either goalie tonight," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said.
The 1-1 tie leaves Wisconsin (11-6-6 WCHA, 17-9-7 overall) knotted in third place with St. Cloud State (12-7-4, 18-9-4), seven points behind first-place Minnesota-Duluth. The Badgers have now played 11 overtime games this season, tying a school record set in 1988-'89, and carry a 4-0-7 record in those affairs.
"I think we've been in this situation before, a number of times this season, where we kind of have an empty feeling after a tie and we think there was more in there for us in this game," Bruckler said.
The Badgers were left grasping for more primarily because of a frenzied performance in a second period in which Wisconsin outshot St. Cloud 14-2. The Huskies struggled to gain any space in their offensive zone in that session, despite having two power play opportunities. St. Cloud's two shots each came from the right point, while the Badgers took seven shots in close proximity to Boron's crease.
Boron, though, kept Wisconsin off the board and the Huskies in the game. He was called upon Friday to replace regular goalie Adam Coole, who is in Duluth, Minn. for his grandmother's funeral.
"(Boron) practiced here on Thursday and he said, ‘I really like this place. Nice arena. I felt good out there,'" St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said. "I thought he played pretty good."
Through two periods of stellar goaltending and strong defensive zone play it looked as if the Badgers might play their first 0-0 tie since a contest at Michigan, Feb. 19, 1931. A neutral-zone turnover early in the third period, though, resulted in a three-on-one rush for St. Cloud State that led to the game's first goal. Junior wing Dave Iannazzo skated the puck into the Badger zone and then fired a cross-ice pass to senior wing Matt Hendricks, forcing Bruckler to slide to across the crease to his right. Hendricks then shot back against the grain, beating Bruckler low to the glove side.
Wisconsin worked and fought for scoring opportunities throughout the game against the physical Huskies and often played deep in its offensive zone, frequently peppering Boron with shots from prime scoring areas.
The hard work finally paid off with a fortunate goal at 12:13 in the third. Freshman forward Ross Carlson centered the puck from behind the net and it bounded off a mix of sticks in the crease, deflected off linemate Robbie Earl and trickled back to Carlson, who somehow lifted it through the fray into the net.
The one goal, though, was all Wisconsin would earn Friday.
"We kind of lost the offensive magic that we had against North Dakota," Eaves said, in reference to the Badgers' nine-goal outburst in two games their last time out. "The guys are disappointed right now and rightfully so because they had a good physical effort. (There is) a little empty feeling right now but now tomorrow becomes a game for third place."
The game was not low-scoring for lack of opportunities. Aside from the second period, St. Cloud State had plenty of chances, putting 20 shots on goal in the first and third periods. Iannazzo made a handful of nifty plays to create scoring opportunities in the third and clanged a wrist shot off the pipe before Carlson's goal.
Wisconsin seemingly spent the whole night getting chances, but was thwarted time and again. Early in the first period, for instance, Burish walked in from the circle all alone but Boron gloved his short attempt. In the third period, Earl made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, then feathered it on net. Inexplicably, it made its way past Boron, but came to a stop in the middle of the crease and laid there for about three seconds before Boron, the Badgers' Carlson, and two Huskies converged on the spot, sprawling to the ice until the whistle blew.
"I think we created some good chances and we have to take a look at what we did to get those and come back tomorrow and see if we can improve on that," Eaves said.
Wisconsin is 0-2-1 against St. Cloud this year and has scored one goal in each matchup.