Head coach Mike Eaves and his players went back to square one over the past week of practice. It was an effort to get back to doing the little things—playing hard, battling for the puck and just playing how the Badgers knew they could play.
It was back-to-back basic, hard-working shifts that gave UW the momentum in the second period Friday. And a sharp-angle goal from junior winger Robbie Earl was all the Badgers would need in a 1-0 shutout against St. Cloud State Friday night in front of a sold out Kohl Center.
"We're a team that is not feeling well, we're a little bit sick and tonight, the game itself, the outcome, was like a V-12 shot," UW head coach Mike Eaves said.
"They wore us down physically. Our defensemen were just pooped at the end," St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko said. "We just couldn't sustain anything in our offensive zone. That was it."
Early in the second period, after a fairly lackluster opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin senior Ryan MacMurchy gave his team a spark. Like much of the night, it wasn't on anything pretty to the eye.
Instead, the winger dumped the puck into the zone, fought off a defender and chased down the puck before anyone else could get to it. That, coupled with an ensuing shift from the Badgers' third line—junior Ross Carlson and freshmen Ben Street and Jack Skille—seized control for UW.
"I saw the team start to emerge … starting in the early second period," Eaves said. "The building started to come alive again and the guys started getting back that feeling of knowing ‘This is us.'"
"It all started with MacMurchy," Carlson said. "We just kept rolling and rolling and then we [drew] a penalty. Our line has been playing pretty well lately and I'm very impressed with the way Skille and Street have been handling it."
And where the rest of the game mostly lacked splendor, Earl made up for it in a matter of seconds early in the third frame with his 18th goal of the year.
Earl snagged the puck to the left and behind the Husky net, and skated it around back for what looked to be a wrap-around attempt. Instead, he pulled the puck out a ways from the post and snapped off an odd-angled wrister that found its way under the left arm of St. Cloud State goalie Bobby Goepfert.
"I just saw the goal open short-side so I just went for it," Earl said. "Could he have saved it? Maybe, but I'll take the goal."
Through the recent period of Wisconsin inconsistency, Earl's offense has been one of few constants. The goal extended his streak of games with at least one point to nine straight.
But the win meant much more to the Badger team than that goal did to its second-leading scorer.
It may prove to be just what the doctor ordered for busting UW out of its recent funk. It was Wisconsin's first victory in four games and just its fourth in its last 12 games since starting the year 18-2-2.
While the players admitted that one game is not enough to make the statement that they are back, it was definitely a step in the right direction after hitting rock bottom at Minnesota State a week ago.
"I don't think after one game you can say we're all the way back to where we were," Burish said. "But we're getting there."
Also getting there is UW's goalie Brian Elliott, who notched his first victory—and a shutout nonetheless—since returning four games ago from a left knee injury. He stopped all 27 pucks that came his way.
"I felt pretty comfortable. When you get back into the net after being out for five weeks it's obviously going to be tough," Elliott said. "As far as shots, I'd have to take a look at the game tape, but I had to make a couple saves that were tough."
"[Assistant] coach [Mark] Osiecki said, ‘He made a lot of subtle good saves,' if there's such a thing," Eaves said. "We definitely saw glimpses of the Brian that we knew before."
The Badgers also got back to the basics in helping out their backstop. While it seemed like Minnesota State got a variety of open looks at the net a week ago, Wisconsin got back to its staple of blocking shots. They turned away 12 pucks before they could reach Elliott.
"Blocked shots, 50/50 pucks, races to pucks, those are all the little things in the foundation of the game," Eaves said. "We did more of those good things tonight than we have done in a while."
While Elliott began to look like the player he was before the injury, he may not have even been the best goalie in the Kohl Center Friday night.
For starters, Elliott saw very few great scoring chances, but the more-tested Goepfert also had a solid night between the pipes, stopping 25 shots for the Huskies.
Once again, it came back to offense for the Huskies. Motzko said he's been working with the idea that getting three goals on a night should be good enough to get the job done.
The Huskies were victorious in just one of their previous five games before coming to Madison. Coincidentally, that was the only game where they scored three goals or more. Friday night, they couldn't even muster one tally.
"We've had no trouble getting to two [goals], but we couldn't even do that tonight," Motzko said.
They will try to turn their offensive struggles around in the series finale Saturday night, while Wisconsin will try to use its momentum to put together a run, albeit a small one, to end the regular season.
With the win, the Badgers improved to 22-9-3 overall and 16-8-3 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. A win Saturday night would draw UW even with Denver for second place in the league with 37 points, though the Pioneers have the tiebreaker over the Badgers and are established as the No. 2 seed in the upcoming conference playoffs. Wisconsin is set as the No. 3 seed, regardless of Saturday's outcome.