Whether its Joe Pavelski's hat trick against Bemiji State, Jack Skille triple-overtime thriller that propelled Wisconsin to the final four or the fact that Brian Elliott has never allowed a goal in this building, the stars are usually aligned for Wisconsin when they make their track north.
Whatever the explanation is, the Badgers needed some of that magic in order to survive the Northern Michigan Wildcats tonight and it came in the form of a bounce off Jack Dowell's head.
After being down by two goals late in third period, Wisconsin came charging back to score a power play that ricocheted off Dowell's helmet and a short-handed goal by Davis Drewiske in the final three minutes to steal a victory from Northern Michigan and earn a 3-3 tie.
With the Badgers down 3-1 and on the power play with just under four minutes to go, UW freshman Jamie McBain fired a shot that deflected off an NMU defensivemen and found its way onto UW Jake Dowell's helmet. The puck bounced off Dowell's facemask and into the back of the net to close the UW deficit to one. It was Dowell's second goal of the night and 25th of his career.
"I'll take them any way I can get them to help this team win games," Dowell said.
With NMU on the power play with less than two minutes to go, Wisconsin received a gift from one of NMU's inexperienced players. After Wisconsin had cleared the puck, sophomore defensivemen Derek May tried to get the puck back into the offensive zone. Unfortunately for May, the puck went to UW senior Ross Carlson. Carlson found a wide-open Davis Drewiske streaking towards the net and Drewski buried the puck past NMU goalie Bill Zaniboni to bring the game to an improbable tie.
"We made a bad mistake on the power play where we turned it over and they get a short-handed goal on it," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "Nothing changed from last night. They are still one of the best team in country and we played them [tough]."
Things didn't look that way from the beginning for Northern Michigan, as senior center Darin Olver put his team on the board first by blasting a shot from the point that got past Connelly. NMU struck again six minutes later, with junior Mike Santorelli corralling a deflection that left him one-on-one with Connelly, who he beat on the low side to push the NMU lead to 2-0.
The second period finally saw NMU click offensively and throw some shots on goal. After only attempting 23 shots on Elliott the night before and two on Connelly in the first period, NMU threw eight shots at Connelly with two make their way past the young net minder in just his ninth career start.
Even before the puck dropped, UW head coach Mike Eaves wanted to give Connolly some time in net for the Badgers in order to prepare him for next season. Much like with Elliott and former Badger goalie Bernd Bruckler, the change over process from one goalie to the next needs to be a smooth transition.
"Shane's in his second year now and when Brian was in his second year, Bernd Bruckler was an All-American goaltender," Eaves said. "We needed to get Brian some action because we knew that next year, he would be the guy. That's where we are with young Shane. We're going to have to look at our schedule and see where we can get him in the games and get some experience. Because next year, he's able to do what Brian does and that's play back-to-back nights."
Much like the night before, Wisconsin finally shook their first period rust and found a way to get the puck past Zaniboni and when Matt Maunu was called for obstruction tripping at 12:07, the Badgers had their scoring window.
Wisconsin freshmen Michael Davies, who registered two goals the night before, and Jamie McBain combined to put a shot on goal that went off Zaniboni and right at Dowell. Dowell whiffed with his stick but hit the puck with his forearm into the NMU goal.
Although Wisconsin had their opportunities to tie the score in the third, the Badgers never could get the puck on the net. Shots from both Wisconsin's veterans and youngsters either sailed wide, high or were deflected just enough by Zaniboni and his defensemen. Zaniboni played solid the entire night, but the defensive mistakes caused him to give up some tough goals.
"He had a lot of big saves, kept us in the game and I was really happy with how he played all weekend," Kyle said.
Wisconsin wouldn't quit however, as the Badgers tried to regain some of that magic that had propelled them late in games over the last two seasons. According to UW head coach Mike Eaves, all it took was getting back to the basics that won this team a championship a year ago.
"They simplified it, got back to the basics, started winning some more puck battles, got the pucks to the net and as a result, gave ourselves a chance to get back in the game," Eaves said.
Eaves also stated that Wisconsin has a ‘grocery cart' of things they need to fix by next weekend; he was impressed by the play of his nine freshmen, eight of whom saw time on the ice. Since a lot of Wisconsin's success is being put on their shoulders, Eaves wanted to be sure that the assemblage of young Badgers got comfortable on the ice.
"They played pretty good," eaves said. "I don't think anybody looked like they didn't belong. Did they have trouble at times? Yes. Did they do some good things? Yes. It's a big group and we were able to see some good things."
The Badgers return home to the Kohl Center next weekend to raise their 2006 championship banner and begin their conference season against North Dakota.