Men's hockey: Mauled in Mankato

Huskies early second-period outburst crushes Wisconsin

MANKATO, Minn.—A little over a month ago the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team was on cloud nine. They were the top-ranked team in the country and everyone was singing their praises.

Now, after a 7-3 loss which capped a sweep of the Badgers by Minnesota State, they know what it feels like to be at rock bottom.

"Maybe we needed a little bit of a wakeup call," senior captain Adam Burish said. "At the start of the season we had a little bit of a swagger, a little bit of cockyness. That might have gone too far."

With their second straight loss, the Badgers fell to third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and were officially eliminated from the MacNaughton Cup race with a Minnesota win.

"We can't really dig ourselves much deeper than we already have," junior blue-liner Jeff Likens said.

Once again, Wisconsin had no answer.

After scoring two straight goals to tie the game at 2-2 heading into the second period, the Badgers relinquished their momentum and allowed four unanswered goals in the first nine minutes of the second frame to fall for the second straight night. Saturday's game featured the sixth-highest attendance (5,007) in MSU history.

"We've kind of got off course. We're playing disconnected. We've lost our swagger, we've lost our confidence," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "We're floundering a little bit.

Jon Kalinski regained the lead for the Mavericks just 1:24 into the second period. He got the puck in the right circle and skated to the slot untouched before putting it over the glove shoulder of UW goalie Brian Elliott to make it 3-2.

A little more than two minutes later, MSU would put home back-to-back goals to put a dagger into the hearts of the Badgers. Steve Wagner threw the puck home for his sixth goal of the year at 3:47 and senior Jeff Marler made it 5-2 at 4:57.

"When you get in a downward spiral, you always go back to your roots, and our roots have always been … play hard," Eaves said. "That's the reason that team down the hallway was successful. We have to go back to that."

Eaves decided that was enough for Elliott, who failed to get a victory for his third straight game since returning from a left knee injury and made just 12 saves in less than 25 minutes.

"That's all part of the disconnectedness," Eaves said of the team's play around Elliott.

But rookie replacement Shane Connelly didn't fair much better.

After spending less than four minutes between the pipes, the freshman gave up a goal. Though he made the initial save, Rob Rankin notched his second tally of the night when Connelly didn't secure the puck and it popped up and into the net.

After Ryan MacMurchy scored his seventh goal of the year, Connelly would surrender another and MSU took an insurmountable 7-3 lead into the final frame.

MacMurchy, who is wearing an "A" on his jersey as an assistant captain in place of an injured Andrew Joudrey, was one of many veteran leaders who spoke up in a players-only meeting after the game.

"We had a heart-to-heart after the coaches didn't even come in [the lockerroom after the game]," MacMurchy said. "It's just us, that's the way we feel. This is a low point for us … and it's really unfortunate for us."

The first period was almost a mirror image of the night before. But this time, it was Wisconsin that battled back from a two-goal deficit to carry the momentum into the second period.

Minnesota State picked up where it left off on Friday night. Ryan Carter put home a rebound less than a minute into the first frame and Rob Rankin used an individual effort to double the lead at 4:03 as it was all Mavericks early on.

But thanks to a power play goal from junior Ross Carlson, the Badgers woke up six minutes into the game.

The Mavericks outshot them 9-4 through the opening 10 minutes, but the Badgers took six of the last nine shots in the period, including a goal from Robbie Earl with a little more than 30 seconds left on the clock.

But it was Pavelski who made the big play, stealing the puck at the UW blue line, skating in on a two-on-one break and feeding Earl with a pretty pass that the junior would capitalize on to make it 2-2 after 20 minutes.

But it was all downhill from that point on.

"It's interesting how the cycle goes in athletics. In January we're 18-2-2 in Colorado on a beautiful Sunday day waiting to come home," Eaves said. "And now we're here at this point and we have to really go back to some basics. We're still coming up on our biggest part of our season, and we know what we're capable of doing."

The Huskies throttled the Badgers after the first intermission, sending a reeling Wisconsin team home to Madison after a month away from the Kohl Center. The Badgers finished the seven-game February swing 3-3-1 after going 0-2-1 in their last three outings.

With the loss, UW fell to third place in the WCHA, its league record slipping to 15-8-3. The Badgers (21-9-3 overall), however, were still No. 2 in the nation in the PairWise rankings as of early Sunday morning.

Wisconsin's loss, combined with Minnesota's 4-0 win at Alaska-Anchorage, locked up the MacNaughton Cup for the top-ranked Gophers. The Badgers, though, did clinch home-ice advantage for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, thanks to St. Cloud State's tie with Michigan Tech Saturday night.

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