In a game highlighted by Duluth's youth and the Badgers more experienced skaters, it was the Wisconsin freshmen that came up big on Friday night as Connelly survived an onslaught of Duluth shots in the second period, and Connelly's roommate, freshman Ben Street, had his first career two-goal game and added assist as the Badgers pummeled Duluth 7-2 at the DECC.
The seven goals were as many goals as the Badgers had scored in the past four games combined and moved Wisconsin back into sole possession of first place in front of idle Denver and Minnesota. More importantly, the win broke Wisconsin's four-game losing streak and gave Connelly his first collegiate win in place of injured netminder Brian Elliott.
"I'm a little happier and upbeat to experience a win after the last four," Connelly said. "It's always more fun when you win. It just felt good as a team. We had lost four in a row and finally got some wind back. That was the biggest thing tonight, not just my success, but the team's success. We put up seven goals tonight and it's a big lift for the whole team. It feels really good."
From the opening faceoff, Wisconsin (19-6-2, 14-5-2 WCHA) came out the aggressors, pummeling Duluth goalie Josh Johnson early and often with 19 shots in the first period. The junior netminder was able to stymie some excellent Badger scoring opportunities, including a slapshot from center Joe Pavelski from the right wing that jarred Johnson's helmet off. Even with an early Bulldog penalty, the Badgers weren't able to get on the board.
UMD freshman Michael Gergen laid a vicious hit on Joe Piskula, which earned him a five-minute major and a game misconduct for checking from behind. But a slashing call against defenseman Jeff Likens cut the power play in half, seemingly squandering a perfectly good opportunity to take an lead.
However, a UMD turnover in its own zone put Wisconsin on the board first. Taking advantage of the mishandled puck, Jake Dowell recovered the puck and took a shot from the ring wing, which was initially stopped by Johnson. However, Johnson couldn't secure the rebound and senior Tom Gilbert fired it home to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead. The lead would be short lived, however, as Duluth center MacGregor Sharp fired a shot from beyond the left face off circle that found its way threw four players and past Connelly to tie the game at 1-1, 11:58 into the first period.
Just 46 seconds later, Wisconsin answered back off the stick of Andrew Joudrey. Coming down the right boards, Ryan MacMurchy fired the puck to Adam Burish behind the net. Securing the rebound, Burish found a streaking Joudrey skating through the slot and Joudrey stuffed it home to give Wisconsin the lead at the end of the first period.
Although Wisconsin played sloppy throughout the first part of the second period, the Badgers were able to pad their lead. Off a rebound that bounced off Connelly, Jeff Likens found a wide open Robbie Earl, who had snuck in behind a UMD line change. Likens was able to deliver a perfect pass threw traffic to Earl on the breakaway and he beat Johnson top shelf for his 14th goal of the season and a 3-1 Badger lead.
UMD was quick to respond with a goal of its own just 24 seconds later. Trying unsuccessfully to clear their zone, a Badger pass bounced off UMD Sharp's skate and right to freshman Nick Kemo, who beat the unsuspecting Connelly to close the gap to 3-2.
The Badgers, however, would rattle off four unanswered goals to turn a close game into a rout, beginning with Duluth native Ross Carlson's tally at 15:08 in the second period.
Not pleased with how his lines were responding, UW coach Mike Eaves decided to switch Jack Skille to Ben Street's line in hopes of boosting the offense. Eaves' gamble paid off as the ensuing goal proved to be the back breaker for Duluth. Skille made a touch pass to Carlson, who skated out from behind the UMD net and whipped around, firing the puck between Johnson's legs to once again give the Badgers a two-goal edge.
"They're a good hockey team and a good hockey team takes advantage of mistakes," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. "I think at least three of those our goaltender should have had. I thought the fourth goal was a back breaker. It wasn't a great goal. He just spun around and found its way in. When have we seen one of those go in for us? Not very often or lately."
"We decided to roll the dice," Eaves said. "I think that the fact that we had a good first period with the lines we had [and] it was pretty solid. In the second period, we lost what we had and rather than sit around to see if something happens, let's be proactive and see if we can set ourselves up here by making some changes."
"We came out in the second period a little flat," said Connelly, who made 17 second-period saves. "So, I just said to myself that we have to make a stand and they just kept throwing it at the net and try to put a drive on [us]. … I just really got into a rhythm and the confidence went way [up] there, so I felt real good."
Wisconsin would deliver the knockout blow in the third period as UMD never seemed to recover from Carlson's goal. Captain Adam Burish scored his seventh goal of the season to put UW ahead by three and Ben Street followed with his seventh of the season less than a minute later. The Badgers capped the scoring on the evening when Carlson found Street wide open in front of the net for his second goal of the evening as UW finished off the Bulldogs.
"That puck was finding me tonight," Street said. "I was pretty fortunate on both those goals. The one off the shin pad on Piskula shot comes right onto my tape and the other one bounced off the goalie's pad right onto my tape again. Everybody loves to have those goals."
In the past two games, Street has scored three of his eight goals this season and has been a breath of fresh air for what had been a struggling offensive unit the previous two weekends.
"He was given an opportunity and he had a three-point game," Eaves said. "He hadn't had a three-point game for us and a couple goals yet. He stepped up to the plate and he got an opportunity thrown his way. … Ben has been a gradual process. He's mature beyond his years. He's a bright young lad who takes things in and formulates them into his game."
"We had roomed together and everything so we'd gotten the chance every night to sit down and talk about it," Connelly said. "He's obviously in a different situation, but he has certainly grown as a player and a individual, too. It's so awesome to see him have a game like this, because he goes out there and competes hard every night. You work so hard and to be able to contribute is awesome."
However, the real topic of conversation Friday was the superb play of Connelly in net. After four consecutive defeats, Connelly stopped 28 shots and allowed two goals off deflections to earn his first collegiate win. In the second period when Wisconsin was struggling, Connelly proved to be the rock of the Wisconsin defense, allowing the Badgers to find their niche and retake control of the game.
"We had the edge in the first and they clearly had the edge in the second period," Eaves said. "It was our own fault because we didn't take care of the puck real well and had too many turnovers. … Shane made some big saves for us because they could have gotten momentum if they had scored a goal or two. He was the difference in the second period [and] his teammates were really glad for him."
"I thought [Shane] played real well," Street said. "It's hard for a freshman goalie to come in and play Denver and Minnesota right away. I thought he did real well. He stayed positive through the whole thing and he had a lot of support around him. It's been a little tough going 0-4 but, as coach said, Curtis Joseph didn't have a good start and it turned out all right for him, too. I am just so happy and so proud of him."
The Badgers will look to build upon their two-point first-place lead in the WCHA when they play the series finale with the Bulldogs Saturday night.