Men's hockey: Sparkling debut

Freshman Jack Skille's overtime winner caps Badgers' comeback; classmate Ben Street sparks rally

MADISON — St. Lawrence and Wisconsin each boast capable veteran players. But in Friday's season-opener, it was the night of the rookies as the Badgers and Saints got two goals apiece from their freshmen.

For the Badgers, it was rookie Ben Street who shifted the momentum their direction and fellow freshman Jack Skille coming through in the end with an overtime goal that lifted UW to a 3-2 victory.

It was a rugged contest featuring hard hits and a tempo characteristic of two teams in mid-season form. Gritty play usually brings gritty goals — not necessarily the prettiest of chances — but the team's took advantage of what was given to them. The game-winner was a fine example.

Ross Carlson took the puck off the boards in the Badgers' defensive zone and passed it up to Skille in the neutral zone.

The freshman, who played on the National Team Developmental Program last year, took the puck into the center of the offensive zone, shifted back outside and simply slid the puck at, and past, St. Lawrence goalie Kevin Ackley.

"I tried making a move to the middle and I got tripped up, and I got lucky and it squirted in," Skille said.

"Jack just went to the net, made a play at the net," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "You could call it a fluky goal, but it's the ability to go to the net and good things will happen."

It was a tough ending for a St. Lawrence team that left everything they had on the Kohl Center ice in front of 10,398 fans.

"Obviously it's tough to lose in overtime, and it's kind of a fluky goal there too, but I was really proud of our effort," St. Lawrence head coach Joe Marsh said.

St. Lawrence never backed down to the No. 10 team in the nation. After the Badgers dictated the opening minutes of the game, the Saints rose up to the challenge and fought hard until the final seconds.

"On the first four shifts, I thought we were really back on our heals," Marsh said. "It was nice to see that turnaround."

Credit Street for bringing the Badgers back into the game after facing a 2-0 deficit late in the second period.

The game really could have gone either way through the first two periods, but it was the Saints who capitalized on being in the right place at the right time.

They came up with a power play goal late in the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room when freshman Kevin DeVergilio had a rebound bounce right to him in front of the net for an easy finish.

At 16:37 of the second period, St. Lawrence doubled its lead to 2-0 with a goal from another rookie, as Brock McBride redirected a puck past UW goalie Brian Elliott.

But Street responded a little more than a minute later with a goal that killed the Saints' momentum.

Robbie Earl found Street in the right circle and the freshman took a simple shot, scoring over Ackley's glove to cut the deficit in half and light a fire under the Badger team.

"For me, when I was on the bench watching that play, it really lifted me up," Skille said. "Obviously, [the Saints had] a two-goal lead — the worst lead in hockey — that gives us the momentum. That was a huge goal for us."

Less than seven minutes into the final period, junior Robbie Earl — known for his timely goals — came through once again for Wisconsin on the power play.

Tom Gilbert passed the puck through the zone to Earl, who wound up to take a one-timer, but the puck took an awkward bounce, and he was forced to corral it. It turned out to be a lucky break as he fired a wrister from the top of the right circle that found its way through Ackley's legs.

It definitely was not the prettiest of his goals, but UW's leading goal scorer from a year ago continues to find a way to finish at the most important times.

"I think, in crunch time, that's when I come alive," Earl said. "I find a way to get it done. In the third period I tend to step it up and do what I've got to do."

That goal sent the game to overtime and gave Skille, who played high school hockey in nearby Verona, a chance to be the hero in his first game in a Badger uniform.

"It's obviously different than playing [in high school]," Skille said. "It was just a dream come true in a way."

Elliott looked good in his first start as Wisconsin's No. 1 goaltender, making 23 saves while allowing the two goals — neither of which he had a good chance at stopping.

"I thought he was really controlled in his movement in the crease," Eaves said. "I thought it was an excellent performance."

But in the end, it was the night of the freshmen coming through.

"They're trying to show coach that they're supposed to be in the lineup every night," Earl said. "They put some timely goals in."

It will be interesting to see how much energy these teams — especially the young freshmen — have left in them after an up-tempo overtime game to begin the season. The two face off in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday night. box score

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