Notes: Practice Makes Perfect

Having gone eight games without a goal, senior John Mitchell knew he was struggling, especially when he only fired 13 shots on net during that time frame. Spending extra time to work on plays, Mitchell's persistence paid off with a key goal to lift No.2 Wisconsin over No.9 Minnesota Duluth, 5-2, Friday.

DULUTH, Minn. - With all that time off during winter break, the Wisconsin men's hockey team had some extra minutes to work on some more peculiar plays. That work paid off when the winger John Mitchell got the Badgers on the board midway through their game against Minnesota-Duluth.

While on the power play, UW freshman forward Craig Smith skated behind the UMD goal. In a move that surprised everyone – Mitchell included – Smith knocked a pass off the bottom bar of the net to the big 6-foot-5 forward, who buried the puck to tie the game at 1.

"I saw I was open, I thought [Smith] was just going to pass it blade to blade," Mitchell said. "I was ready for it, it kind of was in my skates, I was able to kick it to my stick and make the play."

The added element of surprise was crucial on a night where most of the Badgers' shots would be blocked in front or saved. According to Mitchell, it was a chance for something that the team has practiced repeatedly to make an impact in a game.

"We've actually started it quite a lot this year. We'd go out on our own ... over break we didn't have school obviously," Mitchell said. "We'd go out and practice little plays like that to ourselves, just in tight traffic – kind of things like that – and today it worked."

"It's an indirect play. It's one of those tidbits that we work on," UW Coach Mike Eaves said. "You hope that your kids have the poise and confidence in the game to try something like that and they did tonight."

But how often does a trick play like that work flawlessly?

"Well, it's the first one we've seen all year," Eaves said with a laugh.

Faceoff plays crucial again

Last Saturday's deciding goal in UW's 4-3 win over then-No.1 Denver came courtesy of a face-off play, and Friday's 5-2 win was no different.

Holding on to a 2-2 tie in the middle of the second period, senior center Blake Geoffrion went in to take a faceoff in the left circle of the UMD zone. Geoffrion won the faceoff cleanly and the puck slid back to defenseman Brendan Smith, who took a low slapshot that found the back of the net.

"I had a lane, and it was a great faceoff by Blake – I even got to skate into it a little bit," Smith said.

Wisconsin's second goal was a mirror image of its third. Senior Aaron Bendickson won a faceoff in the right circle, which sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner shot past UMD goaltender Kenny Reiter.

The Badgers' ability to create offense off of won draws has made won faceoffs – usually a relatively meaningless stat in the big picture – another weapon in UW's repertoire.

"It's a thing we've been working on in practice, it's almost like a special team thing we've been working on," Smith said. "So far we've executed, sometimes we go without even getting some shots out."

"We always talk about take what's given. We have a play designed and there's different options, depending on what the guy sees with the puck," Eaves said. "They took advantage, and they got the puck at the net – they went in tonight."

Last Friday, success in faceoffs almost turned what would be a 3-3 overtime tie into a 4-3 UW win. Geoffrion won a draw in the offensive zone with 4.1 seconds left that got to senior winger Ben Street. Street was able to kick the puck to the far side, where defenseman Cody Goloubef's last second shot found post, but no net.

Power play fails Bulldogs

Minnesota-Duluth entered the game converting on 24.2 percent of its power plays, which led the WCHA. With a power play unit that can trot out three 30-point scorers, it's even more impressive that the Badgers held the Bulldogs to zero goals on seven power plays. UMD only registered three total shots on goal on its seven power plays.

The secret to UW's success on the penalty kill seemed to stem from its aggressive forecheck. Time and time again the Bulldogs were unable to get out of their own end and when they did, it was almost never without a Badger skating even with or right behind.

"I think we just watched clips on them and tried to take away the guys that normally score, like Jack Connolly and Fontaine," Smith said. "I think we just tried to eliminate them ... the more pressure we put on them, the more mistakes they were making."

The pressure – applied mainly by Street and fellow seniors Andy Bohmbach and Aaron Bendickson helped keep the Bulldogs' dangerous duo of Mike Connolly (27 points) and Jack Connolly (36 points, including seven power play goals) off the scoreboard. Even more impressively, right winger Justin Fontaine, the nation's leader with 12 power play goals on the year, was held to just one shot on goal for the game.

And all it took was a little pressure, applied with some haste.

"They're very skilled, but sometimes when you have pressure, you don't have as much time, and sometimes you panic and make the wrong play," Smith said. "We were fortunate to get on them right quick."

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