"I don't know if it's the building or the way we play in this building, but we are starting to create some history here," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "If Madison is our home, than Green Bay is our cabin up north. "The guys can walk to the rink, which they love to do. They have a nice feel for it with the events that took place at the Frozen Tundra. We look forward to coming up here."
It also was fitting that the Badgers won their season opener in the same fashion they won their sixth national championship last season; a hard-nosed defense and solid goaltending.
Led by senior goalie and Hobey Baker finalist Brian Elliott and first-year freshman Michael Davies' two goals, the Badgers won their fourth consecutive season opener by beating the No.19 Northern Michigan Wildcats 3-0 in Green Bay.
One of the biggest questions plaguing the defending national champions was which Badgers were going to fill the scoring void the quickest. With Wisconsin losing three 100 point scorers and 57 percent of their offense from last season, the Badgers were hoping that one of the nine new freshmen added to their roster would fill that hole.
The Badgers only had to wait until the second period to find their answer.
Just two minutes into the second period, junior Matt Ford took a shot from the left face-off circle that was initially stopped by NMU goalie Bill Zaniboni. However, Zaniboni was unable to corral the rebound and it popped free from the senior net minder. The loose puck found its way to UW freshman Michael Davies, who rifled the puck passed Zaniboni for his first collegiate goal and a 1-0 Wisconsin lead.
That was more than enough goals for Elliott, who looked as comfortable between the pipes at the end of last season. Elliott found himself in very few tough situations on Friday night and made 23 saves for his 12 career shutout.
"[Our] team itself didn't give us a lot of primed chances and when we sent him, they got him," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "Elliott is a real steady influence on their team. You can tell that their veteran guys took charge and they play like they know the guy behind him is going to stop the puck."
"He looked comfortable, he looked patient, he looked in control and he's playing well when he does all those things," Eaves said.
Just to be sure, Wisconsin's inexperienced offense felt it necessary to give their goalie some added insurance and once again, it was Wisconsin's third line that did the damage.
Just two minutes into the third on a delayed NMU penalty, junior Davis Drewski rifled the puck top shelf past Zaniboni to increase the Wisconsin lead to 2-0. Davies and Wisconsin's third line would cap the game's scoring later in the period by beating Zaniboni on the left side for his second goal of the night.
"I've never start any of my seasons at the next level by scoring two goals," Davies said. "I thought it would take me a couple games to get a point or two, but this is great to contribute."
Although he's only 5'9" and listed at 167 pounds, Davies brings a whole new style of play to the Badgers, having excellent puck handling skills and vision that could bring him a lot of success in a Wisconsin uniform.
"He's a little guy, but he moves really well and he's got great deception," Gorowsky said. "They see that little guy and the think he's not going to do anything but he's got great hands, good vision and anticipates really well. I don't think we ripped on him too much, but he's a little guy and fun to pick on."
While the Badger youth made the tallies on the scoreboard, it was Wisconsin's inexperienced veterans that helped set up the night's offense. Junior Matt Ford and sophomore Tom Gorowsky both assisted on all three Wisconsin goals. While both players saw minimal time on the ice last season, both players showed that they are ready to step up and fill the shoes of their predecessors.
"I got some lucky bounces there in certain opportunities that went in and there were other opportunities that didn't," Gorowsky said. "I'm just happy and fortunate to get some points tonight."
With Wisconsin losing Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski to the NHL, two-thirds of their top line a season ago, the Badgers rearranged all four of their lines before the season in hopes of catching a spark. Tonight, it was the Badgers third line, consisting of Ford, Gorowsky and Davies, that accounted for all the scoring against the Wildcats.
"That whole line worked very well together," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. "It's not just one guy. [Davies] finished a couple of really nice plays. They supporter each other better than any other line we had tonight."
While Wisconsin's offense looked to get their feet wet, it was the Wisconsin defense that didn't miss a beat between tonight's opener and last year's national title game. The Badgers defense killed off seven NMU penalties on the night, continuing their streak of 39 consecutive power plays kills off dating back to last season. With the Badgers continuing to build their offense, Wisconsin can rely on their solid defense to lay the foundation for the 2006-07 season.
"You start in the net and you work your way up to blue-line, centers, wingers and we return some pretty good things in those areas. That gives up a chance to be successful in those areas," Eaves said.
Tonight game did look like a season opener for both teams, with Wisconsin registering six sloppy penalties during the first period. Although that could be expected, head coach Mike Eaves was pleased that his team was able to respond better in the following two periods.
"The first period was a little rackety and we looked tired at times, but you got to blow out the fumes and get back in the game. We'll go from her and build and hopefully be better tomorrow night," Eaves said.