Sometimes it is better to be late than never. Just asked the Wisconsin power play unit, which came to life late Friday night in a 3-2 comeback win over the Mercyhurst Lakers at the Kohl Center.
The NCAA made it known that the referees would be cracking down on penalties and backed up the warning with 30 calls on the night. More disturbing for the Badgers then the near constant whistles, however, was the fact that they came away empty handed on their first nine power play chances (three times while 5-on-3), and paid for it as Mercyhurst converted on two of its first three opportunities to put the hosts in a 2-0 hole by the end of the first period.
"It's a difficult game to play when you see your teammates struggle at the beginning to score," UW goalie Bernd Bruckler said. "But we were playing well and doing a lot of good things, so we just had to keep going."
After exhibiting an apparent lack of ability to capitalize when awarded the man advantage, though, Wisconsin made a sudden turnaround and picked up two power play goals—and a third goal just after a power play had expired—in the final 22 minutes of the match to secure a win in its season opener.
"The guys are great on the bench," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. "They said, ‘Hey, no problem, we'll handle this.' When that kind of leadership is coming from the bench you have something special. That was a positive sign in a negative situation."
Robbie Earl tallied the game-winner just after the final moments of the Badgers' last power play had ticked off the clock. The sophomore wing managed to fight through a crowd and slip the puck past Laker netminder Andy Franck at 14:35, putting the finishing touch on an impressive Wisconsin rally.
"That last goal guys were slapping at it, guys were kicking at it," Badger captain Adam Burish said. "That's the personality of this group of guys and that's something we'll continue to do throughout the year – battle as hard as anybody."
Earl's winning shot was made possible by Jake Dowell's equalizer at 6:39 of the final period, only 10 seconds into the man advantage.
Franck (43 saves) put on a dominant performance between the pipes in the second period, registering 17 saves, and was bested only by his own defense. At 18:20 of the period, only seconds into their 10th power play of the night, the Badgers received a stroke of luck when freshman Matt Auffrey's pass across the crease was accidentally poked into the net by Laker Erik Johnson.
Despite spending nearly half of the first period on the power play, the Badgers were unable to muster the first score. Conversely, the Lakers experienced no such problems on special teams.
David Wrigley gave the Lakers the lead at 16:00 of the first after depositing a loose rebound into the open half of the net, and Dave Borrelli provided an second goal two minutes later after deflecting an incoming puck past Bruckler (22 saves).
Wisconsin and Mercyhurst finish their weekend series Saturday night at the Kohl Center at 7:05 p.m.
UW rallies to win season opener
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