Against a freshman goalie last weekend, the Wisconsin men's hockey team managed only four goals while hitting eight posts in a disappointing two-game series.
Sufficient to say, Wisconsin was much better off this time around, and it got them dividends in one of its least successful venues.
The Badgers made a sound statement of how good they can be in the 2009-10 season, getting scoring from six different sources and 19 saves from junior Brett Bennett, as No.17 Wisconsin throttled Minnesota State, 6-0, in front of an announced crowd of 4,352 at the Verizon Wireless Center.
"All we talked about coming into this barn was we needed to win," as Wisconsin (1-1-1, 1-1-1 WCHA) registered its first win in Mankato since December 11, 2004 and its first shutout, home or away against the Mavericks. "We knew that we had to prove ourselves (by winning here). I think everybody wanted to prove that."
Few people had more to prove that Smith, who was pulled from Saturday night's lineup by UW coach Mike Eaves, and senior captain Blake Geofftion, who missed most of last weekend after suffering an upper-body injury in the first period Friday.
After Derek Stepan's backhand tally at 11:02 in the first, Smith converted 40 seconds later, taking a turnover deep in Wisconsin's zone the distance, putting a smooth move by slipping the puck through the legs of defenseman Kurt Davis, to beat Murdock top shelf to double the advantage.
"I just wanted to come out and prove that I didn't lose anything from last year," said Smith, who also registered an assist on the third goal. "I wanted to do what I do best. I wanted to show that I can be a part of this team."
Geoffrion's tally was the conclusion to a dominant first period from Wisconsin, which turned 16 first-period shots into three goals, all created by solid effort. It was an obvious release of pent-up anxiety. After UW got out-skated and out-performed in the first period last Saturday, Wisconsin looked like the senior-laden team that could exude its offensive potential.
"We had a little puck luck," Eaves said. "We did some good things to create offense … This was about us getting back on track. This was us taking a step."
It got no better for MSU true freshman goalie Kevin Murdock at the start of the second period, as he was pulled after giving up a soft goal to Cody Goloubef at 10:17 and a goal off the stick of Podge Turnbull that deflected off his back and in at 14:10, signaling the end of his night after giving up five goals on 29 shots.
"We weren't playing hard enough," a quiet MSU coach Troy Jutting said. "I thought they played very well … and they made us look bad."
His replacement, freshman Phil Cook (making his collegiate debut), fared better, but gave up a wobbly goal to Jordy Murray at 18:21, closing out another feverish period for the visitors in which UW held a 34-12 shot advantage after 40 minutes.
"It's a step in the right direction," Geoffrion said. "It's our team maturing and knowing what to do. Guys weren't selfish out there, even with a 3-0 lead. That's good for our team."
Added Eaves: "Maybe that speaks to a little bit that we are growing as a team with the maturity to keep playing."
The Badgers' special teams unit got plenty of work, as UW killed off all eight Minnesota State power plays and converted on two of nine attempts. The Mavericks gave UW seven power plays in the second period alone, giving UW's offense plenty of ice time and a chance to wipe away the opening week demons.
"Our first goal was to come out and play hard," Geoffrion said. We wanted to come out and established our heart. We didn't play the way we wanted to play against CC both nights. We did that tonight. The next step is coming out and being consistent, coming out the same way."