MADISON, Wis.—Bernd Bruckler has done quite a bit well this season. He has been the glue that keeps Wisconsin's men's hockey team together, playing more minutes than any other goaltender in the nation, allowing just 2.27 goals per game and drawing attention as a possible conference player of the year.
One thing the junior had not done in quite a long time, though, was shut an opponent out.
Saturday at the Kohl Center, Bruckler stopped 25 shots in a 3-0 Wisconsin win for his first shutout since his first game in a Badger uniform, a 5-0 win over Wayne State on Oct. 20, 2001, well before second-year coach Mike Eaves had arrived.
"Well, I've seen the change in him in just a year," Eaves said. "When you watch him right now, he seems in control: his position, his rebound control, his decisions with the puck are all pretty solid right now. Such a huge part of a goaltender's equipment is his confidence and he has that in spades."
The win broke No. 6 Wisconsin (12-6-6 WCHA, 18-9-7 overall) out of a tie with No. 8 St. Cloud State (12-8-4, 18-10-4) and into sole possession of third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings.
"On many fronts it's important," Eaves said. "The fact that we are in third place. The fact that it's a ranked opponent and in the pair rankings that adds up to be a positive factor for us. And it keeps us going in terms of our momentum and our belief in ourselves. …We are getting tournament experience now because of the intensity level of these games."
But if Saturday's game, and the series generally, proved anything, it was how evenly matched these teams are. The Huskies won the season series 2-1-1 with each team scoring six total goals.
"There are not a lot of teams in the country that are going to beat either team when both teams play like that," St. Cloud coach Craig Dahl said. "The WCHA, this league is TOUGH this year."
"We match up against this team so closely," Eaves added before pausing. "Just great hockey this weekend."
It was a game similar to Friday's 1-1 tie in that each team earned plenty of opportunities and fired a barrage of shots on net. The Badgers and Huskies toiled for their chances in a hotly-contested, well-played hockey game, one in which each team improved upon its play after an enthralling first game to the series.
Wisconsin's players said following Friday's game that they needed to do a better job getting traffic in front of St. Cloud freshman netminder Tim Boron, who played an exceptional series, allowing just three goals in two games while making 63 saves, 32 Saturday.
"There is no shame in losing that game when the goalies play that hard," Dahl said. "We had good quality (shots), especially in the third but Bruckler came up big when he had to."
After not scoring for more than 52 minutes Friday, the Badgers were able to solve Boron earlier in game two.
Freshman Ross Carlson and linemates freshman Robbie Earl and senior John Eichelberger established a presence early and often Saturday, a strong forecheck generating a plethora of offensive opportunities, including six shots on goal for Carlson.
The line's hard work paid off late in the first when Eichelberger fended off a St. Cloud player behind the net and fired a backhand pass to Carlson, who was wide open in the slot. Boron saved Carlson's initial shot, but the puck trickled past his pads and to his right, where Carlson pounced on it and put it in the net.
"I put one up right upper corner and he gloved that so I didn't know where to go," said Carlson, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday. "I was going upper corner on the one that I scored and it went 5-hole somehow. I just kind of chipped her in."
It was Carlson's fifth goal of the season and his 14th point in 14 games.
Wisconsin made one lineup change Saturday, inserting freshman wing Mark Heatley in place of junior forward Pete Talafous. Heatley responded with a strong performance playing on the fourth line, but was moved up to a line with sophomores center Adam Burish and wing A.J. Degenhardt in the third period. Heatley was successful in his temporary time with the new line, finding a rebound off of Degenhardt's shot from the low slot to give the Badgers a 2-0 lead.
"Heater gave us what we were hoping he would give us and that's a little bit of an offensive spark," Eaves said.
"Their two goals were good kind of down low just hard work, chomping and chunking and mucking and finally one went in," Dahl said.
Senior left winger Rene Bourque capped the scoring with an empty-net goal.
The Huskies came tantalizingly close to beating Bruckler, striking two pipes and having a goal disallowed for a high stick.
"They had a couple just good hard-working goals," St. Cloud junior wing Dave Iannazzo said. "Ours just didn't go in."
Iannazzo ripped a wrister through a screen and hit a pipe with seven-tenths of a second left in the second period. Early in the third period, sophomore center Joe Jensen repeated the trick, but this time the puck careened into the crease and stopped in front of Bruckler's outstretched pad. Wisconsin, though, cleared the rebound, as it did throughout the game, not allowing a single rebound shot attempt all game long.
"Pucks were hitting the post, pucks were getting cleared out by our defense and we've talked about that all year that we can definitely play zero," Bruckler said. "We are good enough to do that and tonight it just all came together."
A little more than seven minutes into the period, with the Badgers still up 1-0, St. Cloud senior forward Matt Hendricks put the puck in the net on a power play, but did so with a high stick.