Sterling's line with Marty Sertich and Jimmy Kilpatrick had combined for 56 goals prior to Friday's game. But on this night they would be out-scored and out-played by a misfit Wisconsin line of wings Ryan MacMurchy and Nick Licari and center Andrew Joudrey.
Sterling put 10 shots on goal, pacing a Tiger attack that out-shot UW 40-25, including a gaudy 17-6 in the first period. But CC's top line did not enjoy its usual success, as Sertich and Kilpatrick were held to three shots and zero points.
"It is a balance of being able to play with and without the puck," UW head coach Mike Eaves said regarding the play of the MacMurchy-Joudrey-Licari line. "The fact that if the Sertich line was in our zone that they could be responsible without it and the fact that if they got the puck in the zone on offense they could make things happen."
MacMurchy, Licari and Joudrey did not even know they would be playing together until shortly before Friday's game, let alone find out they would be checking Sertich and Sterling, who have now combined for 111 points this season. Sertich, the nation's leading scorer with 58 points (23 goals, 35 assists), was held without a point Friday, snapping an eight-game point scoring streak.
Said MacMurchy: "All through practice [this week] I was playing with [Jake Dowell and Ross Carlson]… just kind of at the last minute we found out and he gave us our job to shut them down. We were just working as a three, because we're three older guys and we play good defense together."
Licari, MacMurchy and Joudrey combined for three goals, three assists and a combined plus-eight rating, having out-scored the Tigers' top line 3-0 at even strength.
"We just thought about shutting them down first and we just countered those guys," MacMurchy said. "Our transition caught them a couple times. They are a really good line but I think if we continue to play the way we did tonight…hopefully we'll continue to have the same success."
"It was very nice to contribute offensively but like Ryan said our main job was to shut that line down," Licari said. "I think we did a pretty good job of that."
Tables turn from first to third
Colorado College dominated the first 20 minutes of hockey Friday and out-played UW for much of the second period as well. Wisconsin was out-shot 30-15 in the first two periods combined.
"We were dysfunctional the first period and a half," Eaves said.
The Tigers could not get on the board, though, due primarily to the stellar play of Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler, who finished the night with 39 saves. Bruckler made a number of sparkling plays but more importantly was in good position throughout the night.
"I'm tired of seeing him," CC coach Scott Owens said of the Badgers' senior netminder. "He played well. He was square to the puck, he faced the puck well. It seemed like a lot of shots hit him in the middle, but sometimes that's the result of a goaltender on his angles and on his game."
"The first 30 minutes I thought we were playing pretty well," Owens said. "We just didn't have anything to show for it. It wasn't so much that he was making phenomenal saves. It was he was in the right place at the right time."
CC struggled to finish its chances throughout the game. If Bruckler did not make a clean save, his teammates were there to chip the puck to safety or clear the Tigers away from the net.
"We need to get a goal early but it just didn't seem like it was going to be," Owens said. "We had a lot of shots, but I don't think they were great second efforts. I thought they were perimeter shots and we were easy to play against."
For Wisconsin, the star of the evening was Bruckler, who bailed out the Badgers time and time again.
"It took us a while to get our competitive juices and timing going there," Eaves said. "Bernd allowed us to do that. Without him in the net in that first period and a half we were in big trouble."
UW made Bruckler's good work count, beginning to turn the tide in the second period before throttling CC with four goals in the first 10:46 of the third period. MacMurchy notched a goal 55 seconds into the third period and assisted on Licari's pair at 6:09 and 10:46.
The third period shots were even at 10-10, but CC looked a stride or two behind the Badgers for the final 20 minutes, struggling to keep pace as UW thrived.
"If we could have gotten up on these guys," Owens said wistfully, "they are hard to play against when they get up because of their systems. It's disappointing."
Badgers' top line silent
"What hurts is that their two hot guys… Pavelski and Earl, really didn't do the damage," Owens said.
Earl did help set the tone with some aggressive checks and ended up accumulating quite a few penalty minutes – 18 minutes in all. He spent the final 7:59 in the UW locker room after picking up a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Pavelski and Earl each attempted just one shot on goal. Wisconsin, though, found plenty of offense from other sources.
"We talked about balance before," Eaves said. "I went down to Robbie on the bench when it was about 4-0 and I said, ‘It's great to see the other guys score.' He said, ‘absolutely.' He knows that when we have balanced scoring we are a tougher team to play against.
"They carried the load for us last week and they allowed us to get a point. It's nice to see the other guys chip in."
UW far from content
Despite beating the No. 3 team in the nation 5-1, the four Wisconsin players who addressed the media following Friday's game – Bernd Bruckler, Tom Gilbert, Ryan MacMurchy and Nick Licari – were a few shades sunnier than somber. The Badgers were obviously not pleased with their slow start Friday, a start which allowed CC to outshoot the Badgers 24-11 before Matt Auffrey's goal at 11:22 in the second period gave UW a 1-0 lead.
"Yeah, we won 5-1 against the No. 3 team in the country but we want to go from good to great and be one of the best teams in the nation and we know we didn't play our best game," MacMurchy said. "If ‘Brucks' doesn't play the way he did, it could have been a different story."
Licari, who was on the ice for Sterling's power-play tally, also voiced his displeasure with the late goal.
"To be honest that [power play] goal we gave up stands out," Licari said. "That kind of ruined my night. I take that pretty serious."
"You got to have a little bit of happiness in knowing that you won 5-1 but at the same time you know that you didn't play your best," MacMurchy said. "That should fuel us tomorrow. I think we'll be better."
Bruckler on Bruckler
Said Bruckler: "All the talk this week was about this being may last two games at the Kohl Center and certainly had a little bit of focus on that as well myself and just wanted to really go out on a high note and play my best. And fortunately I was able to do that tonight."
Notable: Colorado College was held to one goal for just the third time this season. The Tigers have not been shut out since a 3-0 loss to Minnesota Jan. 10, 2004. The last time CC was shut out away from Colorado Springs was in a 3-0 loss to Denver in the WCHA Final Five on March 15, 2002…. Licari scored two goals for the first time in his career…. Bruckler picked up the 50th win of his career, tying him with Mike Dibble (1973-78) for sixth on UW's all-time list… Bruckler needs one more shutout to tie the school career record of nine held by Terry Kleisinger (1980-84) and Graham Melanson (1997-2001)… CC's Sterling now has a nine-game point-scoring streak… MacMurchy's three points marked his first multi-point game since he had two assists against Alaska-Anchorage Jan. 14. He now has five multi-point games this season and 16 in his career… Joudrey's assist on Auffrey's power-play goal snapped a personal six-game streak without a point.